The United States and other Western nations are concerned that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons under the cover of a peaceful energy program.  On Monday French President Jacques Chirac warned Iran that it would face censure by the U.N. Security Council if it did not reinstate a freeze on sensitive nuclear activities.  And he urged Iran to accept an offer of incentives by France, Britain, and Germany in exchange for an indefinite freeze on its uranium conversion and enrichment activities.

Iran claims its program is for peaceful purposes only.  But London-based Iranian journalist Ali Reza Nourizadeh said he has no doubt Tehran has embarked on a nuclear weapons program under the guise of developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.  Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now?s International Press Club, Mr. Nourizadeh said he has seen documents confirming that Iran has a ?secret atomic program.?  In his opinion, the Europeans have been ?too lenient? with Tehran in the past two years and now they face a tougher opponent in Iran?s new conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  According to Mr. Nourizadeh, if Iran ?manages to buy another two years,? it might well be able to complete preparations for developing a nuclear bomb.  However, he said, because Iran needs European trade and technology, Europe has more leverage with Tehran than it has thus far been willing to use.

Safa Haeri, editor of the Iran Press Service in Paris, disagreed with Mr. Nourizadeh that pursuing U.N. sanctions against Tehran represent a real option.  He noted that an embargo on Iranian oil might raise the price of a barrel to an unacceptable $80 or $100. Furthermore, China and Russia would most probably veto U.N. sanctions.  On the other hand, Mr. Haeri agreed that Iran wants to build nuclear weapons, all its protests to the contrary notwithstanding. 

According to Philip Jelie, U.S. bureau chief of the daily newspaper Le Figaro, France is also convinced Tehran?s claim that its intentions are purely peaceful is a ?pretext? for enriching uranium for military purposes.  However, he noted, the Europeans still believe the best way to deal with Iran is through dialogue and negotiation.  Mr. Jelie said he doubts that anything worthwhile can be achieved through U.N. sanctions.

Where the journalists agree is that it will be extremely difficult to reach an agreement on Iran?s nuclear program that will be acceptable to all parties.

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