Merkel: Sanctions will be tragic for Iranians

Chancellor speaks as 'Spiegel' report claims proof Iran's program is military.

iran nuclear workers 298 (photo credit: AP)
iran nuclear workers 298
(photo credit: AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned IranMonday evening that it may face new sanctions if it doesn't cooperatewith the West over its nuclear program.

Merkeltold diplomats in Berlin that "time is running out" for Iran. She saidadditional sanctions would be a "tragedy for the Iranian people."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told BrazilianDefense Minister Nelson Jobim that it was evident that "Iran, which haslarge stocks of gas and oil, is not developing a nuclear capability forpeaceful purposes. Lieberman said the missiles Iran was developing werenot intended to spread nuclear energy for the good of mankind.

Lieberman told his Brazilian colleague that Iran was theworld's number one sponsor of terrorism, ruled by a government thatdenies the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist. He also referred tothe regime's crackdown on opposition activists, saying "we have seenhow the Iranians took care of civilians after the elections [there]."

Lieberman and Merkel made their comments just hours after Der Spiegelreported that new intelligence acquired by Germany's BND conclusivelyshows that Iran's nuclear program has an advanced military offshootwhich answers to the country's defense establishment.

The report said the information was being reviewed in Germany, Israel, the US and the UN's nuclear agency in Vienna.

Asidefrom exposing the existence of a clandestine weapons developmentprogram, the document apparently shows that Teheran is in possession ofadvanced blueprints for producing a nuclear bomb.

Such documents, as well as information passed on to Westernintelligence agencies by Iranian defectors and sources within Iran, arecausing growing alarm among US and European leaders. In its report, Der Spiegelassessed that the White House may consequently raise threat levels fromyellow to red. World leaders and even the UN's International AtomicEnergy Agency (IAEA), said the newspaper, are beginning to understandthat rumors of Iranian defiance, noncompliance and warmongering areneither Israeli propaganda nor a figment of the imagination.

The intelligence document raises questions pertinent to thenature of Iran's nuclear program, which the Islamic republic claims ismeant solely for peaceful energy production in a climate of dwindlingnatural resources, including oil. However, its evasive tactics,spiteful rhetoric and lack of transparency with Western bodies lookingto halt the spread of nuclear weapons have caused world leaders to beconcerned - and increasingly skeptical.

Reports which have surfaced in recent years hintthat Iran's National Energy Council may not be the only body to whichits nuclear scientists answer. In fact, according to Der Spiegel,Iranian Science, Research and Technology Minister Kamran Daneshjoo - aclose ally of the country's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -worked for several years at a Teheran research and development centerdevoted to military technology. This government-sponsored scientificbody is believed by Western intelligence agencies to have becomesubservient to Iran's defense ministry. Vague estimates state that thebody, headed by 48-year-old Revolutionary Guard officer MohsenFahrizadeh, now deals in "high technology" in a manner that differsgreatly from that of the country's energy council.

Der Spiegel suggested that the two bodies divide thelabor of nuclear research and development between them, with the energycouncil focusing on uranium enrichment - the production of what couldpotentially evolve into fissile warhead material - and the defenseministry responsible for research on warheads compatible with Iran'sNorth Korean-developed 'Shahab' ballistic missile line.

Assuch, the Islamic republic may be able to produce a crude nuclear bomb- too large to be attached to any missile - by the end of this year,with estimates citing 2012 or 2014 as a target date for a fullyfunctional warhead.

Also on Monday, France pushed for tougher sanctions againstIran just as Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called forgreater involvement by Arab countries in international efforts todefuse the nuclear threat from Teheran. China and Russia, though stillunpredictable, are likely to agree to sanctions not targeted at theIranian economy.

France will serve as the European Council's rotating president starting February.

US President Barack Obama has set January as a deadline for Iranto respond to diplomatic outreach. Western states, along with the UN,China and Russia, are still awaiting Teheran's final official responseon a proposal which calls for the Islamic republic to ship asignificant percentage of its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchangefor a similar quantity of nuclear fuel.