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Iran Nuclear Issue Discussed at Washington Forum - 2003-09-18

A group of U.S. Congressmen and Israeli Knesset members met in an unusual session in Washington, Wednesday, to discuss Iran. The lawmakers heard testimony about dangers posed by Iran's nuclear program.

A panel of experts told a meeting of the U.S.-Israel Joint Parliamentary Committee on Capitol Hill that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

Gary Mulholland is director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. "Iran is in fact emerging rapidly as the new mass destruction weapon threat in the Middle East. It is clear to me, at least, from what I know that if Iran continues down its present path, we will be looking at a new nuclear weapons power within the next few years," he said.

Mr. Mulholland said Iran is also developing long-range missiles capable of reaching Europe or the United States. He said there is only one aim to such missiles: to deliver nuclear weapons.

That prompted a response from Yuval Steinitz, a member of the Israeli Knesset. "The Iranian nuclear program is really a military nuclear program with the aim of threatening not just the Middle East or Israel, but NATO and Europe, and maybe to be able to target the United States of America," he said.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Paula De Sutter warned that Iran's nuclear program, if allowed to continue, could weaken the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"If left unchallenged, Iran's development of a nuclear weapons' program will seriously weaken the NPT and the IAEA. Already faced with North Korea's brazen disregard for its treaty obligations, the NPT would be undermined still further if Iran were able to disregard its treaty obligations in a similar way," he said.

North Korea has withdrawn from the treaty and says it is making nuclear weapons.

The IAEA is giving Iran until the end of next month to prove that it does not have a nuclear weapons program. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Ms. De Sutter said if the IAEA finds Iran violated the treaty, the issue would be referred to the U.N. Security Council, which could decide to impose sanctions. Ms. Sutter did not say what action the United States would support in the Security Council.

Senator Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, said he is considering introducing a Senate resolution on the matter.

"What it would essential say is that the Congress is strongly of the view that Iran needs to come into compliance with the agreements it has signed," he said.

Senator Kyl says his Senate colleagues have reacted positively to the idea of such a resolution.