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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 08:02 GMT
Pressure for Iran sanctions continues
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Mohamed ElBaradei (17 September 2007)
Mr ElBaradei has said Iran is years away from making a nuclear bomb

The latest report from the IAEA on Iran is unlikely to stop pressure from the United States and its allies for further sanctions.

But the unity of the Security Council is wearing thin and the international front against Iran could begin to split, with Russia and China becoming increasingly unwilling to take significant steps.

The UN's watchdog agency indicated that while Iran was being more co-operative about explaining its past activities - including an admission that it went onto the black market to get uranium enrichment technology - it is still defying the Security Council in its present ones, principally enrichment.

Iran says that it intends to make nuclear power not a nuclear bomb.

The path will probably lead to the Security Council in New York

It has also failed to stop construction of a heavy water reactor, as required by the Council. Nor has it implemented a more intrusive inspection system to which it had earlier agreed.

The IAEA reported that Iran had installed 2952 centrifuges, the machines that do the enriching. The 3000 figure is said to be a "red line" by some observers, after which it would be easy for Iran to enrich enough uranium to make a bomb within a year or so.

However, the enrichment plant at Natanz is under IAEA inspection and it would be impossible for Iran to do this secretly. If it did so publicly, it would have leave or defy the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and expose itself to potentially serious consequences.

The IAEA report was to be considered by the five permanent members of the Security Council - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - plus Germany on Monday, but China has not agreed to this date. The IAEA board meets on 22 November.

The EU's foreign policy representative Javier Solana is also expected to meet the Iranians again soon.

Sanctions path

After all these meetings, the path will probably lead to the Security Council in New York where the US, the UK and France will propose a third round of sanctions on Iran.

Bushehr nuclear reactor
Iran says its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes
The question then will be whether Russia and China will agree, and the answer at the moment must be that it is doubtful.

Russia has recently declared that there is no evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon and China is, according to a senior British official, reluctant to act if its economic relations with Iran might be affected.

These would be hit if the Council sought to restrict investment in Iran's oil and gas. China already has extensive contracts with Iran in those fields.

If the Security Council is deadlocked, then the EU, pressed by Britain and France, could impose sanctions of its own.

These sanctions could, as the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has proposed, involve the banning of investment in oil and gas, and financial measures - mainly the restriction of export credits for exports to Iran.

The United States already imposes wide-ranging sanctions of its own.

Military option

The further question beyond sanctions is whether the US will seriously consider an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities and/or other targets, mainly the Revolutionary Guards.

Israel is getting increasingly restless about the failure of sanctions to effect a change of direction by Iran and is likely to press Washington for action at some stage.

However, the US appears reluctant at present to commit itself and Admiral William Fallon, the head of US Central Command, said the other day that a strike on Iran was not "in the offing".

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