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Growing Concern Over Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

Iran's president renewed attacks against Israel this week, dismissing the Holocaust as a "myth". The latest anti-Semitic rhetoric brought quick condemnation from the international community. As VOA's Mil Arcega reports, it also raised new concerns about Tehran's drive for nuclear self-sufficiency.

In a speech on state television, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested the murders of an estimated six million Jews between 1933 and 1945, never happened. The remarks, one week before scheduled talks on Iran's nuclear program, outraged many in the international community.

Jose Manuel Barroso, who is head of the European Commission says the comments are shocking. "It's really shocking that a head of state that has a seat in the United Nations can say such a thing, and it only calls our attention to the real danger of that regime to have an atomic, a nuclear bomb."

In October, Iran's president called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", and last week, described the Jewish state as a "tumor" that must be removed.

Dr. Daniel Goure, a national security expert at the Lexington Institute think tank in Washington, D.C. says one such comment might be excused as excessive zeal or political inexperience, but Mr. Ahmadinejad is a larger, more calculating, threat.

“What you have here is the worst possible situation, which is a regime headed by somebody who clearly has an irrational side, and a regime that is pursuing nuclear weapons. And it is in the intersection of those two issues that you could see a threat, not just to Israel, not even just to the region, but to the whole world."

Although Iran insists its nuclear program is strictly for civilian use, the United States and others believe the real intention is to produce nuclear weapons.

Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., says the nuclear program is in progress. "There's no question there's a nuclear weapons program underway, the issue basically is how committed are the Iranians, how large is the program, how easy is it to conceal things we don't know."

Britain, France and Germany will meet with Iranian officials on December 21st to restart talks aimed at ending Tehran's nuclear drive, but Mr. Ahmadinejad says Iran is not prepared to compromise on its nuclear program.

Dr. Goure warns that the world needs to find some way to address Iran's nuclear ambitions quickly or else. "We do not have much time. If it's not measured in a few months, it's measured in only a few years and if the international community does not act now, this is going to be as consequential as the League of Nations not acting against Italy in the 1930s or against Germany in the late 30's."

The question is what can be done. Some analysts say the international community must put pressure on Russia and China, two Security Council members which have endorsed Tehran's nuclear program, meaning the Council might not be able to take punitive action against Tehran.

There's been speculation that Israel, which has expressed its concerns about Mr. Ahmadinejad and Iran's nuclear program, might try pre-emptive military action similar to its destruction of Iraq's nuclear reactor in the 1980s.

For now, there are calls for a diplomatic resolution through the talks with the European nations, and general denunciations of Iran and its president, such as from State Department spokesman Sean McCormack who remarked, "One can only explain it by saying that these statements and these actions reflect the true intentions and the true face of this government."