Iran Nuclear NewsIran challenges US over nuclear programme

Iran challenges US over nuclear programme

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Daily Telegraph: Iran dared America to attack it yesterday as
the senior hawks in President George W Bush’s administration all but admitted that Washington faced a dilemma in trying to prevent Teheran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Daily Telegraph

By Alec Russell in Washington

Iran dared America to attack it yesterday as the senior hawks in President George W Bush’s administration all but admitted that Washington faced a dilemma in trying to prevent Teheran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In a rare interview, Dick Cheney, the vice-president, stressed repeatedly that Washington was backing a European diplomatic initiative to persuade Teheran to freeze permanently its nuclear ambitions – even though it is Washington’s worst-kept secret that the administration believes the attempt is doomed to fail.

“[The Iranians”> know very well that we do not want them to acquire nuclear weapons, nor does the civilised world,” Mr Cheney told Fox News. “I can’t think of anybody who is eager to see the Iranians develop that kind of capability. Now, we are moving to support efforts to resolve it diplomatically.”

America had not “eliminated any alternative”, he said, an apparent threat of military action whose obliqueness reflected the deep uncertainty in the US capital over its policy towards Iran.

Apparently sensing America’s difficulties, Iran has become increasingly outspoken. Hassan Rohani, the secretary general of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said yesterday that there was nothing the West could do to make it scrap its nuclear programme.

He told the Reuters news agency that Iran would retaliate in the event of an attack by America or Israel. “And we will definitely accelerate our activities to complete our [nuclear”> fuel cycle.”

Mr Bush last week named Iran as the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism but said America stood by Iranians in the search for freedom from the mullahs.

For the moment, however, with 135,000 troops stationed in Iraq and most of America’s allies desperate for a diplomatic solution with Teheran, administration officials are at a loss over how to proceed.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, challenged to verify a report in the New Yorker that US special forces were scouting out possible targets in Iran, told ABC television: “Not to my knowledge.” He suggested that, like Mr Bush, he was hoping for change from inside the country.

“I was amazed at how rapidly the Shah of Iran fell and the ayatollahs took over. So we can’t predict these things. We don’t have intelligence that good,” he said.

A further brake on military action comes from a new, official ambivalence about intelligence. After the misjudgments in assessing Saddam’s threat before the Iraq invasion, the Senate is implementing a critical overview of intelligence about Iran.

The CIA believes that Iran may be between one and three years away from being able to make a nuclear weapon. Teheran contends that its nuclear ambitions are purely for electricity generation.

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