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The United States lacks sufficient intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities at this time, which prevents it from initiating a military strike against them, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told European politicians and diplomats with whom she has recently met.

Rice mentioned three reasons why the United States is currently unable to carry out a military operation against Iran: the wish to solve the crisis through peaceful means; concern that a military strike will be ineffective - that it would fail to completely destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities; and the lack of precise intelligence on the targets' locations.

U.S. President George W. Bush and President Jacques Chirac of France met several weeks ago. Bush told his French counterpart that the possibility that Israel would carry out a strike against Iran's nuclear installations should not be ruled out.

Bush also said that if such an attack were to take place, he would understand it. According to European diplomats who later met with Rice, the secretary of state did not express the same willingness to show understanding for a possible Israeli strike against Iran.

Nonetheless, Rice did not discount the possibility that such an operation may take place.

In recent talks with their Israeli counterparts, French government officials estimated that Iran would reach the "point of no return" in its nuclear program by spring 2007, in approximately five months.

At that point, according to Israeli sources, Iran will be in a position to simultaneously operate approximately 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.

Various estimates by international experts hold that today Iran is operating 340-600 such centrifuges.

In talks with Israeli sources several days ago, a French government official asserted that an Israeli military attack against Iran would be "a total disaster" in terms of its implications for the entire world.

According to the French official, such a strike would at best delay the completion of Iran's nuclear program by two years.

The attack would also result in Iran cancelling its membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, cause a great deal of agitation in the Arab world, lead to a rise in oil prices, and could result in a major Iranian military response that would not target Israel alone.