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There is a growing threat that terrorist groups such as Hizbullah will acquire nuclear or other WMD technology, a senior US State Department official told The Jerusalem Post this week.
He indicated that there are a "large number" of nuclear smuggling incidents each year, some of which are "substantial" and not limited to low-grade material.
"You have this environment of material, expertise and supporting equipment [for weapons of mass destruction] being more widely available than before," he said. "You have that coupled with the demonstrated interest of some terror groups to acquire these capabilities, and that is a real concern to us."
"It's a bigger threat than it was in the past... You see work by the groups to try to acquire the means. It's not just the will. They are working to acquire the means," he said.
While the official wouldn't discuss the specific capabilities of Hizbullah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, he said "each of those terrorist groups are ones the United States is very concerned about." He also said Arab and Muslim countries were increasingly playing a role in combating the spread of such technologies to terrorist organization.
The first two meetings of the US-led Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism were held in Morocco and Turkey, respectively, and the next one is scheduled for Kazakhstan.
"I don't know that I could yet say it's a shared concern across the Arab world. That would be an overstatement," he said. "But I would say the beginnings are positive here. You have countries, including Islamic states, with a common vision working closely together."
The official stressed the importance of international cooperation on Iran. He said moves to make the Islamic Republic abandon uranium enrichment efforts should be done in "a way where we continue to have the international community united."
To that end, if Teheran fails to comply with the second unanimous UN Security Council Resolution calling on it to stop enriching uranium, the US will use "incremental increases in pressure" to get Iran to comply, he said.
"It's important that we maintain the international community's united support for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program," the official said. "While you have consensus on the need to take steps to stop this, you don't have complete consensus on the timing or on the specific measures."
He said such differences were particularly apparent between the American approach and that of the Russians and the Chinese, but that they existed also with regard to the Europeans.
"I think we perceive a greater threat and are more concerned by it than our European colleagues," he said. While noting European support for many US steps against Iran, he also said, "There are debates inside the EU as to whether certain measures they're supporting, such as sanctions, are consistent with engaging Iran and what's going to be a more effective policy over the long run."
With Israel, the official said, there's largely agreement on the threat posed by Iran and the time frame for handling it, but that the Israelis "give more stress to the worst-case scenarios."
"It's very apparent to me from being in Israel that the Iranian nuclear threat is perceived as being an existential threat to the existence of Israel, and I understand that," he said.
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