Israel Fears Iran Could Accelerate Nuclear Weapons' Race
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
June 27, 2005
Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israeli leaders want the international community to take tougher measures against Iran regarding its nuclear pursuits since a hardliner won overwhelmingly in presidential elections late last week.
Virtually an unknown, President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad scored an unexpected victory over well-known chairman of the Expediency Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
The victory sparked fears here that Iran would now accelerate its development of nuclear weapons and could arm terrorist groups with nuclear weapons, spreading the threat all over the world.
Ahmadinejad said on Sunday that negotiations between Iran and the trio of European Union countries - Britain, France and Germany - would continue based on national interest and confidence-building measures.
But the White House expressed skepticism over the fruit of such talks.
"We will see in the negotiations. We have reason to be skeptical," spokesman Scott McClellan said. "It remains to be seen what the true intentions of the un-elected few that run [Iran] are."
Both the U.S. and Israel are convinced that Iran is using the development of a civilian nuclear power program as a cover to develop atomic weapons.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom urged the international community to "formulate a unified and stern policy towards Iran."
"We must ensure that modern Western countries do not become hostage to Iranian radicalism," Shalom said.
Israel and the U.S. have been pushing for the issue of Iranian nuclear development to be referred to the United Nations Security Council, but European nations have been reluctant to do so, preferring instead to engage in dialogue with the radical regime.
The foreign minister told the cabinet on Sunday that the new regime would accelerate efforts to develop its nuclear program with the sole aim of obtaining nuclear weapons to match the launching ability that it already has.
Iran has test-fired missiles with a range capable of reaching all of Israel and U.S. troops in the region. It is working on a more developed version that could cover Europe and possibly reach the eastern United States.
Shalom said it is now even more likely that Iran will arm terrorist organizations with nuclear weapons creating a global existential threat.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres said the free world would continue to face big troubles following the election because of the combined elements of extremism, non-conventional weapons and Iranian isolation.
"The dangerous combination of extremists, non-conventional weapons, and [Iranian] isolation from the West will continue and will generate a great deal of problems for the free world," Peres said in a statement.
Peres' comments were mentioned in a news broadcast about the elections on Iranian television. Israeli television news, in turn, picked up the fact that the Iranians had commented on what Peres said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said that Israel was angry about Iran's economic growth and regional influence, the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.
Asefi accused Israel of being "the main factor behind threats to the region." Israeli expert on Iranian affairs Menashe Amir said that he did not believe that Iran's nuclear policy would be very affected by the election because the policy is not determined by the president.
Nevertheless, Amir said, because Ahmadinejad is an extremist, Iran will have more difficulty with negotiations.
European countries must also be convinced that it is time to abandon negotiations and turn the Iranian nuclear development over to the United Nations Security Council, Amir said.
Dr. Ephraim Kam, deputy head of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said that Ahmadinejad would probably have the biggest influence on internal issues rather than on foreign policy and thus he did not expect Iran's policy on nuclear development to change too much.
Nevertheless, the Ahmadinejad's election could encourage Europe to exhibit less flexibility toward Iran, Kam said.
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