PM: Iran still dangerous, we must continue int'l pressure
Iranian President says Iran aiming for 50,000 centrifuges in five years, maintains Iran nuclear program peaceful.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday delivered a fierce rebuttal to a U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program, saying that Teheran still poses a major threat to the West, and the world must not let its guard down.
Rejecting the main conclusion of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that Iran dropped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, Olmert said, "Iran was and remains dangerous, and we must continue international pressure with full force to dissuade Iran from nuclear tendencies."
Israel has for years been warning that Iran is working on nuclear weapons. Israel considers Iran a significant threat because of its nuclear ambitions, its long-range missile program and repeated calls by its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to wipe Israel off the map.
Iran has insisted all along that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but Olmert rejected that. He said "Iran has no need for electricity produced by nuclear energy, doesn't have the infrastructure to create energy for civilian purposes and does not need to act with frenzied haste to create enriched uranium - unless it wants to develop nuclear weapons."
Addressing a Tel Aviv conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, Olmert said, Iran continues its activities to attain two vital components to create nuclear weapons the development of a sophisticated electrical system and ballistic missiles, while at the same time producing enriched uranium.
Olmert praised U.S. President George W. Bush for declaring that the new intelligence report does not detract from the danger Iran poses, noting that the report itself gave estimates of when Iran could acquire a nuclear weapon.
"I trust and am confident that the United States will continue to lead the international campaign to stop the development of a nuclear Iran," he said.
Olmert said Israel would cooperate with world bodies like the International Atomic Energy Agency and would not take the lead in the struggle against Iran's nuclear program, an apparent attempt to counter speculation that in the aftermath of the U.S. intelligence report, Israel might feel the need to strike Iran militarily on its own.
In talks Monday with the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi also warned of the continuing danger posed by Iran's nuclear program, Israeli officials said.
Bush calls on Iran to explain halted nuclear arms programBush on Tuesday called on Iran to explain why it had a secretive nuclear weapons program and warned that any such efforts must not be allowed to flourish for the sake of world peace.
"Iran is dangerous," Bush said after a White House meeting with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. "We believe Iran had a secret military weapons program, and Iran must explain to the world why they had such a program."
Bush's comments came after Ahmadinejad said that it was a step forward that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded that Tehran stopped developing its nuclear weapons program four years ago.
Ahmadinejad told reporters that an entirely different situation between the United States and Iran could be created if more steps like the intelligence report followed.
"We consider this measure by the U.S. government a positive step. It is a step forward," Ahmadinejad said.
"If one or two other steps are taken, the issues we have in front of us will be entirely different and will lose their complexity, and the way will be open for the resolution of basic issues in the region and in dealings between the two sides," he said.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is peaceful, but the West fears that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
Iran aiming for 50,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges in 5 years
Iran needs to install 50,000 centrifuges within five years so it can make enough fuel for one nuclear power plant, Ahmadinejad said Tuesday.
Iran's uranium enrichment plans are the part of Tehran's nuclear program that most worries the West because the process can be used to make both fuel for nuclear power plants or, if desired, material for warheads.
Ahmadinejad told a news conference 50,000 centrifuges - roughly the figure Iran has stated is its goal - were enough to make fuel for one plant in a year.
"We have to install centrifuges with the same speed [as building nuclear power plants] so that in five years we would be able to produce fuel for one nuclear power plant," he said. He mentioned "four or five years" elsewhere in his remarks.
"We will take this path. We think there are no major obstacles on the way when everybody realizes that our path is peaceful," he said.
Iran has not previously said when it wanted to have the 50,000 or so centrifuges in place.
Iran has about 3,000 centrifuges, a figure confirmed by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency in a November report. The report said the centrifuges were running at a very low capacity.
If running smoothly for long periods, 3,000 would be enough to make material for a warhead in a year, Western experts say. It would also be enough to start industrial fuel production.
The UN Security Council has demanded Iran halt its enrichment work. Tehran has refused, and says its aims are peaceful and a national right. Two rounds of sanctions have been imposed on Tehran for refusing to stop.
Iran's first nuclear power plant is being built by the Russians and has faced years of delays. Tehran says it wants to build a network of such plants.