Iran to have nuclear bomb in six months, says Israel

As Israel tried to stiffen resolve among the members of the International Atomic Energy Agency who are meeting in Vienna, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon urged the US to take the lead in ensuring Iran was brought before the UN Security Council "as soon as possible".

Mr Sharon told Fox News that Iran was "afraid of a Security Council meeting and sanctions that might be taken against them".

Mr Sharon appeared to indicate that Israel was not contemplating a unilateral military strike on a nuclear plant in Iran, of the sort it carried out on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. While acknowledging that Israel cannot "live with" Iran as a nuclear military power, he added: "I don't think [it] is the sole responsibility of Israel. I think this only can be an international pressure on Iran."

But Mr Sharon underscored the urgency of concerted international pressure on Iran by declaring that when Iran solved "technical problems" in developing a nuclear weapon "we then will reach a point of no return". Without giving evidence, Sylvan Shalom, Israel's Foreign Minister, implied that it could be as early as next year. He told a meeting of Jewish leaders in New York: "According to our people, security and intelligence, they are very, very close. It may be only six months before they will have that full knowledge."

The public diplomacy by Israel came amid reports that the EU had circulated a draft resolution for the IAEA, seeking to report to the Security Council "Iran's many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its Nuclear Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement". Iran has threatened to re-start uranium enrichment and to reconsider inspections of its facilities if it was referred to the Security Council.

The latest outline agreement with North Korea seemed in danger of unravelling yesterday as the Communist state declared it would not scrap its nuclear weapons programme until the US supplied it with a civil reactor - which Washington has refused.

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