Merkel warns Iran may face sanctions

German chancellor speaks after 'Der Spiegel' report of intel proving nuclear program's military aspect.

merkel 298 AP (photo credit: AP)
merkel 298 AP
(photo credit: AP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Iran Monday evening that it may face new sanctions if it doesn't cooperate with the West over its nuclear program.
Merkel told diplomats in Berlin that "time is running out" for Iran. She said additional sanctions would be a "tragedy for the Iranian people."
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim that it was evident that "Iran, which has large stocks of gas and oil, is not developing a nuclear capability for peaceful purposes." Lieberman said the missiles Iran was developing were not intended to spread nuclear energy for the good of mankind.
Lieberman told his Brazilian colleague that Iran was the world's number one sponsor of terrorism, ruled by a government that denies the Holocaust and Israel's right to exist. He also referred to the regime's crackdown on opposition activists, saying "we have seen how the Iranians took care of civilians after the elections [there]."
Lieberman and Merkel made their comments just hours after Der Spiegel reported that new intelligence acquired by Germany's BND conclusively shows that Iran's nuclear program has an advanced military offshoot which 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.
Aside from exposing the existence of a clandestine weapons development program, the document apparently shows that Teheran is in possession of advanced blueprints for producing a nuclear bomb.
Such documents, as well as information passed on to Western intelligence agencies by Iranian defectors and sources within Iran, are causing growing alarm among US and European leaders. In its report, Der Spiegel assessed that the White House may consequently raise threat levels from yellow to red. World leaders and even the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the newspaper, are beginning to understand that rumors of Iranian defiance, noncompliance and warmongering are neither Israeli propaganda nor a figment of the imagination.
The intelligence document raises questions pertinent to the nature of Iran's nuclear program, which the Islamic republic claims is meant solely for peaceful energy production in a climate of dwindling natural resources, including oil. However, its evasive tactics, spiteful rhetoric and lack of transparency with Western bodies looking to halt the spread of nuclear weapons have caused world leaders to be concerned - and increasingly skeptical.
Reports which have surfaced in recent years hint that Iran's National Energy Council may not be the only body to which its nuclear scientists answer. In fact, according to Der Spiegel, Iranian Science, Research and Technology Minister Kamran Daneshjoo - a close ally of the country's hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - worked for several years at a Teheran research and development center devoted to military technology. This government-sponsored scientific body is believed by Western intelligence agencies to have become subservient to Iran's defense ministry. Vague estimates state that the body, headed by 48-year-old Revolutionary Guard officer Mohsen Fahrizadeh, now deals in "high technology" in a manner that differs greatly from that of the country's energy council.
Der Spiegel suggested that the two bodies divide the labor of nuclear research and development between them, with the energy council focusing on uranium enrichment - the production of what could potentially evolve into fissile warhead material - and the defense ministry responsible for research on warheads compatible with Iran's North Korean-developed Shahab ballistic missile line.
As such, 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 fully functional warhead.
Also on Monday, France pushed for tougher sanctions against Iran just as Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called for greater involvement by Arab countries in international efforts to defuse the nuclear threat from Teheran. China and Russia, though still unpredictable, are likely to agree to sanctions not targeted at the Iranian economy.
France will serve as the European Council's rotating president starting February.
US President Barack Obama has set January as a deadline for Iran to respond to diplomatic outreach. Western states, along with the UN, China and Russia, are still awaiting Teheran's final official response on a proposal which calls for the Islamic republic to ship a significant percentage of its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for a similar quantity of nuclear fuel.