'US report should not deter world'

Olmert: Document emphasizes need for tightening sanctions on Iran; Barak: Iran's nuke program active.

iran nuclear new 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
iran nuclear new 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The threat of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons must not be underestimated, was the message government officials sent out on Tuesday after the release of a US intelligence report claiming that Teheran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 but was continuing to enrich uranium. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that he was familiar with the report that had been shown to him by US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates during the Annapolis peace summit last week. "I am familiar with the American intelligence assessment," Barak said following a meeting with Hungarian Chief of Staff Gen. Andras Havril. "Nevertheless, I say again that Iran is today a central threat on the world and the State of Israel." He said that the world and Israel needed to take steps to confront the threat and to thwart it. "There is a lot that can be done with regard to the Iranian nuclear program but it is important to mention that words do not stop missiles," the defense minister said. "Action is needed in the form of sanctions, in the diplomatic sphere and in other spheres as well." Last month, Barak said that a military operation was a viable option for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat. "We cannot take any option off the table and we need to study operational aspects," Barak said at a Labor Party meeting in Beersheba. "This is not just for the coming months but also for the coming two years." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the opening of a meeting with the Italian deputy prime minister that the report only emphasizes and strengthens the need for the international community to tighten sanctions on Iran so that it will not be able to produce nuclear weapons. According to Olmert, the report's findings were brought up during his meetings with Washington officials soon after the Middle East Peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland last week. Regardless of the fact that the report said that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons plan, the fact was that such a plan did indeed exist until 2003. "The US still plans to continue to try to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons. We will make every effort - first and foremost with our friends in the US - to prevent the production of this type of weapon," he said. In response to Israeli speculation that the report's findings would weaken American-backed support for military action against Iran, Barak emphasized that the issue of its nuclear program was still relevant. "It is possible that this is correct, but I do not think that it is our place to make assessments about US [policy]. It is our responsibility to ensure that the correct things are done. Constantly speaking about the Iranian threat, as we have done recently, is not the right thing to do… words do not stop missiles," Barak told Army Radio. "There are differences in the assessments of different organizations in the world about this, and only time will tell who is right," he added. National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said that irrespective of the US intelligence report, "Israel must continue to act in every way against the Iranian nuclear threat." "This report is totally fine, it makes me smile, but on the other hand Israel and the defense establishment are working under the premise that Iran is in fact heading directly towards [a nuclear weapon]" Ben Eliezer told Army Radio, adding, "This is exactly one of the issues over which the state of Israel must take no risk." Similarly, government officials said Monday night that the new report had not lessened Israeli concerns, since enriched uranium can be used both for civilian and military purposes. According to the report, Iran halted its nuclear weapons development program in the fall of 2003 under international pressure but is continuing to enrich uranium. That means it may still be able to develop a weapon between 2010 and 2015, senior US intelligence officials said Monday. Herb Keinon and AP contributed to this report.