'Iran to make big nuke program strides'

According to assessments, delays in reactor activation won't hold up nuclear arms development.

schulte iran 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
schulte iran 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Weakening international pressure on Iran will embolden Teheran to make major strides next year toward developing a nuclear bomb, according to assessments from Israeli intelligence officials obtained Monday by The Associated Press. Delays in activating Iran's nuclear reactor will not hold up its development of nuclear weapons, because Teheran's main focus is enriching uranium, the officials said. The intelligence officials agreed to be interviewed only on condition of anonymity because the information is classified. Meanwhile, the chief US delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency said that the change in administrations in Washington would be a good opportunity for Iran to enter new negotiations to end its uranium enrichment program. With the new administration, Iran should not expect a drastic change in the US position, said Gregory L. Schulte, who was in Berlin to meet with German officials before the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors' meeting in Vienna on Thursday and Friday. But Schulte expressed hope Iranian leaders would view the change in leadership at the White House as a new chance. "We'll see if they take advantage of this - I mean, it would be good if they said, 'Okay, now is an opportunity for us to get into negotiations and to take concrete steps that the world expects,' to give us assurances of the peaceful nature of their nuclear program," Schulte told reporters. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has already sent congratulations to US President-elect Barack Obama, the first time an Iranian leader has offered good wishes to a US president-elect since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Obama has also indicated his willingness to talk with leaders such as those in Iran, Syria and North Korea. But Schulte underlined that Obama has echoed President George W. Bush's stance that a nuclear-armed Iran was unacceptable. "The president-elect has also talked about the need for reinforced diplomacy, the need for direct tough diplomacy, and the need for that diplomacy to be sustained, to be backed by the prospect of economic sanctions and political isolation," he said. At this week's IAEA meeting, Schulte said a major focus would be on a report about Syria's Al Kibar facility, which said satellite imagery and other evidence showed it had the characteristics of a nuclear reactor. Syria allowed the IAEA to visit the site near the desert town of Al Kibar in June but has since turned down requests for more inspections. "It's very clear to us that Syria has a lot of explaining to do," Schulte said, but added that "Syria is not Iran, and we don't want to make Syria into Iran." He also said he hoped Syria would take the approach Libya did when the country renounced its efforts to make nuclear weapons in 2003. "Libya was caught with an illicit nuclear weapon's program - Libya admitted that program, and at our last board meeting we actually passed a resolution where we welcomed the full cooperation by Libya," Schulte said.