iranian soldiers 298. AP.
(photo credit: AP [file])
An Iranian news agency announced Sunday that Iran would begin construction on two nuclear reactors beginning in March. The report added that an Iranian parliamentarian confirmed that one of the reactors would be funded by Russia, at a cost of $1 billion, Army Radio said.
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said on Sunday afternoon that he doubted diplomatic pressure would put a halt to Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"The fact that the Iranians are successful time after time in getting away from international pressure ... encourages them to continue their nuclear project," Halutz told foreign journalists in Tel Aviv.
"I believe that the political means that are used by the Europeans and the US to convince the Iranians to stop the project will not succeed," Halutz added.
Asked how far Israel was ready to go to stop Iran's nuclear project, Halutz quipped, "2,000 kilometers."
With all the confusion surrounding the sale of nuclear materials following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it isn't clear how advanced Iran is in its quest to develop a nuclear warhead, Halutz said, adding in an aside, "Unless they already have a warhead ... Maybe they have something, no one knows."
There are military options to deal with Tehran, Halutz said.
"Who is the one to implement it? That is another question that I'm not going to answer. 'When?' is another question that I'm not going to answer. But there are options worldwide," he said.
On Saturday, Israeli officials strongly condemned the reported sale of Russian weapons to Iran, calling it a "very dangerous move."
Moscow is selling more than $1 billion worth of missiles and other defensive systems to Teheran, according to Russian media reports.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin did not comment on any specifics of weapons deals, saying in a statement on Saturday only that they were "exclusively defensive weapons."
"All contracts concluded in the military-technical cooperation area fully comply with our international commitments, including in the sphere of nonproliferation, and are in full compliance with Russian law," he said, according to the statement.
The qualifications did not appease Israel. "Whether you call it defensive or offensive, it just encourages the regime in Iran to continue with its dangerous polices," said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman, Ra'anan Gissin.
Kamynin's statement appeared to be timed to head off the expected heated reaction from the United States following reports in Russian media Friday that Russian and Iranian officials had signed contracts in November that would send up to 30 Tor-M1 missile systems to Iran over the next two years.
Interfax said the Tor-M1 system could identify up to 48 targets and fire at two targets simultaneously at a height of up to 20,000 feet (6,100 meters).
On Saturday, an influential Iranian official downplayed the deal, telling the official Islamic Republic News Agency that Iran has been trading arms with many countries and would continue to do so.
"Iran's and Russia's military cooperation is not a complicated issue," said Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. "It existed before, and there was no ban on it."
"We do not see any necessity to answer any question in this regard," Larijani said.
Also Saturday, Iran's constitutional watchdog approved a bill that would block international inspections of its atomic facilities if it is referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, according to state-run television.
The ratification by the hard-line Guardian Council means the bill - overwhelmingly approved by parliament last month - now needs just a presidential signature. It was not clear when that would take place.
The law will strengthen the government's hand in resisting international pressure to permanently abandon uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for either nuclear reactors or atomic bombs. Iran has been under intense pressure to curb its nuclear program, which the United States claims is part of an effort to produce weapons. Iran says its program is aimed at generating electricity.
While Iran has frozen its enrichment program, it restarted uranium conversion - a step toward enrichment - in August. The International Atomic Energy Agency has warned Iran that its nuclear program could be referred to the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions on the country.
"If Iran's nuclear file is referred or reported to the UN Security Council, the government will be required to cancel all voluntary measures it has taken and implement all scientific, research and executive programs to enable the rights of the nation under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," the law says.
Canceling voluntary measures means Iran would stop allowing in-depth IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities and would resume uranium enrichment. Iran has been allowing short-notice inspections of those facilities under a signed - but not ratified - protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.