UN nuclear inspectors have arrived in Iran for their second visit to the country in a month. The chief inspector said he would be asking the government in Tehran about its alleged ambitions to develop nuclear weapons.
Inspectors from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog arrived in the Iranian capital Tehran early on Monday, seeking a diplomatic solution to the international dispute over Iran's nuclear program. The visit by an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delegation came less than a day after the US and UK appealed to Israel not to launch a preemptive military strike against Iran.
"We hope to have a couple of good and constructive days in Tehran," the deputy director general of the IAEA, Hermann Nackaerts, said at Vienna airport as his five-member team prepared to depart. "The highest priority remains of course the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program."
A cautious Nackaerts went on to describe Tehran's alleged aim to obtain nuclear weapons as "a very complex issue that may take a while."
Several western countries, citing military intelligence reports, say that Tehran wants to obtain atomic bombs, while the Iranian government says that its nuclear program is designed only to provide atomic energy. A report released by the IAEA in November, also citing intelligence papers, said for the first time that some of the uranium enrichment activities believed to be practiced in Iran could only have military purposes.
The United States and European Union have introduced a string of sanctions against key Iranian figures and industries - most notably the oil and finance sectors - in response to the issue. Iran responded to some of these measures on Sunday by cutting all oil deliveries to France and Britain, several months before an EU sanction on such deals would have come into full effect.
Twin calls for Israeli calm
The long-running tensions over Iran's nuclear program have intensified in recent months, with some analysts saying that a preemptive military strike from uneasy regional neighbor Israel is increasingly likely.
US National Security Advisor Tom Donilon held a two-hour meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, while a senior military official in Washington advised against any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.
General Martin Dempsey said in an interview with CNN that even a successful strike would only delay any Iranian nuclear plans, adding that it could lead to retaliatory action elsewhere in the region, for instance in Iraq or Afghanistan.
"That's the question with which we all wrestle. And the reason that we think that it's not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran," Dempsey said. "That's been our counsel to our allies, the Israelis… I'm confident that they understand our concerns, that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn't achieve their long-term objectives."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a very similar message in an interview on BBC television Sunday.
"I don't think the wise thing at this moment is for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran," Hague said. "I think Israel, like everybody else in the world, should be giving a real chance to the approach that we have adopted, of very serious economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, and the readiness to negotiate with Iran."
msh/gsw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)