Iran's claim to have joined the nuclear club is "surely exaggerated," according to Dr. John Chipman, the director-general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).However, "There is a consensus emerging that an Iranian nuclear capability is both inevitable and certainly bad," Chipman said last week at the launch of "The Military Balance 2006," the London think tank's annual assessment of the military capabilities and defense economics of 169 countries world-wide."The rough US consensus, summed up by Senator John McCain, is that the only thing worse than a US military strike is a nuclear armed Iran," Chipman said, while "the rough Gulf Arab consensus might be that the only thing worse than a nuclear armed Iran is a US military strike against the country, especially if it were still left with a nuclear option."Neither diplomacy nor the threat of military action is likely to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear enrichment program, Chipman said.There is "a great deal of nervousness in the Gulf," said Dr. Mamoun Fandy, senior IISS fellow for Gulf Security. "Shia pride" has encouraged some segments of the Arab Gulf population to support Iran's nuclear ambitions, while an Anglo-American military strike against Iran would create "blowback" the IISS said, with the Gulf States and Israel becoming targets for retaliation.Preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear arms is the key strategic issue facing the world today, Chipman said. "An Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons would dramatically alter the regional balance of power and would inspire all sorts of potential diplomatic shifts," he said."Changing the cost benefit analysis in Teheran, preventing a nuclear outcome and controlling its consequences, if it takes place, will present the most difficult and also classic strategic challenge in the months and years ahead," he said.If Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime abandons all caution, it could build a nuclear weapon by 2010, said Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for non-proliferation at the IISS. However, the "estimate of 2010" represents the "earliest possible" date, "not the most likely" one, he said.Iran's remaining "bottleneck is the ability to enrich uranium." However, "That bottleneck is on the verge of being passed," Fitzpatrick said.The "key time line" is how soon Iran can produce 20 to 25 kilograms of highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon. "The IAEA's (International Atomic Energy Agency) limited access - it now can no longer monitor the centrifuge component facilities - inevitably requires policymakers to rely on worst-case assumptions about Iran's progress toward the bomb," Chipman said.Iran is likely to reject Western demands to abandon its nuclear program, he said, noting that current proposals were a "repackaged" version of incentives rejected by Iran in August.A rejection by Iran of the call by the US, Britain, France and Germany to abandon its enrichment program could, however, "strengthen the hand of the US and the EU-3 in persuading Russia and China of the need for further measures at the UN," Chipman said. It could clear the way for the US and UK to secure a Security Council resolution forcing Iran to suspend its program and resume cooperation with the IAEA, he said.Russia would probably not veto a Security Council resolution or subsequent resolutions on sanctions, so as not to prevent the political collapse of the G-8 summit scheduled for St. Petersburg in July, Chipman said.A strategy of containment might offer itself, he said. "But here again it is difficult to judge how willingly Gulf Arab states would enter into an ever tighter security arrangement with the US when public support for [an] alliance with the United States remains shallow," he said.Iran is not united behind the goal of acquiring nuclear weapons in the face of international opprobrium, the IISS stated. "Indications that the Gulf Arab states would invite more, rather than less, US involvement in the region could create a debate within the Iranian regime as to whether its security interests were truly served by continuing to ignore international concern about the program Iran is now embarked upon.""Securing a delay in that program through a negotiated or enforced suspension of Iran's enrichment activities would also give more time for that debate, if it took place, to have a satisfactory outcome or for public opinion to question the advantages of regime policy," Chipman said.