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Book: Iran's Nuclear Program Could Lead to Confrontation

Iran's nuclear program, combined with its efforts to develop long-range ballistic missiles, could create the serious threat of a potential military confrontation involving Tehran, the United States and Israel. In a new book, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, details Iran's military capabilities and its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Cordesman is formerly the director of intelligence assessment for the Secretary of Defense and is now a senior military analyst specializing in countries in the Middle East.

His latest book on Iran's military capabilities agrees with the Bush administration's accusation that Tehran is trying to develop nuclear arms.

"There is almost certainly a nuclear weapons program now,” he said. “Much of the nuclear tests and development effort that you see in Iran simply makes no sense as peaceful research. We are not certain that Iran got the same Chinese nuclear weapons design that Libya did, but it seems highly likely that it did."

The Iranian government says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, and will only be used to generate electricity.

However, Mr. Cordesman says Iran's well-known program to build long-range missiles is a strong indication the country is seeking nuclear weapons.

"There is virtually no technical justification for building them unless you are going to put a nuclear warhead on them,” he added. “That means basically, that whatever the intent is we see this as perhaps the most expensive, physically known declared program in Iranian military activity, its purpose is either nuclear or to act as a rather expensive exercise in terror weapons."

In his book, Mr. Cordesman says most experts feel Iran has the basic technology needed to build a nuclear bomb, but lacks any rapid route to develop weapons-grade uranium or plutonium.

Mr. Cordesman says even though Iran may be years away from being able to build a bomb and a missile system to deliver it, there is still the possibility of pre-emptive strikes and a military conflict.

"There are serious prospects of potential confrontation here,” he noted. “One over Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, where neither U.S. nor Israeli military options can be ignored. The problems of tension and encirclement and what Iran may or may not do in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Next week Britain, France and Germany are expected to hold their latest round of talks with Iran to try and convince Tehran to curtail its nuclear activities.

The talks come after Iran announced plans to resume enriching uranium, which could be used for nuclear weapons.

If the negotiations break down, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions on Iran.