'Iran, not al-Qaida, biggest Mideast threat to US'

US military official warns of Iranian threat "to our interests and to our friends," days before release of UN report on Tehran's nuclear program; Sarkozy: France won't stand by if Israel's existence is threatened.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at nuclear plant (Reuters) 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at nuclear plant (Reuters) 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Iran is the biggest threat to the United States in the Middle East, surpassing al-Qaida, which is down but not out, a senior US military official said on Friday.
"The biggest threat to the United States and to our interests and to our friends, I might add, has come into focus and it's Iran," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Speaking at a forum in Washington, the official said he did not believe Iran wanted to provoke a conflict, however, and added he did not know if the Islamic state had decided to build a nuclear weapon.
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Next week, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, is expected to release a report that includes evidence of Iranian nuclear research which makes little sense if not weapons related, Western diplomats said.
The report, however, is expected to stop short of declaring outright that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned Iran's nuclear program on Friday and said France would not stand idly by "if Israel's existence were threatened." Sarkozy was speaking at a G20 summit of world leaders .
"Iran's behavior and this obssessional desire to acquire nuclear military (capability) is in violation of all international rules, and France condemns firmly the lack of respect for these rules," he said in the French Riviera resort of Cannes.
Western powers, including Israel, suspect Tehran of developing nuclear weapons -- something Iran denies -- and have imposed sanctions in an attempt to curb its program. The United States and Israel have repeatedly hinted at possible use of force against Iranian nuclear sites, drawing threats of fierce retaliation from the Islamic Republic.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Friday that Israel's position on Iran has not changed, despite recent Israeli media reports of a possible strike on Iran.
"I propose we wait and see the IAEA report," he said, adding that he believes that if the UN nuclear watchdog will be "daring enough to say bluntly what they know about [Iran's] nuclear program," the world will understand that the Iranian threat is international in scope.
Speaking in an interview with Stephen Sakur on the BBC, the defense minister repeated Israel's position that Iran must be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons and that no options should be taken off the table to that end.
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat
Click here for full Jpost coverage of the Iranian threat