The French foreign minister sparked an uproar recently when he said the world should brace for a possible war with Iran. The statement about a possible military confrontation with Iran fueled expressions of concern from Russia and China. VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports that the French diplomat's statement mirrors frustration with Iran in other Western capitals, particularly in Washington.

Ken Katzman, an Iran analyst with the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, says Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was voicing the fear that the Bush administration may be tempted to take military action against Iran.

"They are sensing from the Bush administration a growing frustration that if these sanctions are not ratcheted up dramatically and quickly, that there is going to be this pressure for military action coming from within the administration, and that President Bush might ultimately decide on such action," said Katzman. "So I think that's what you're seeing in Paris right now."

The U.S., along with other powers on the U.N. Security Council, claims Iran seeks to become a nuclear weapons power. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. Negotiations between Iran and the European Union have faltered, and two sets of sanctions imposed by the Security Council have failed to deter Tehran.

In addition, the United States accuses Iran's Revolutionary Guards of arming, funding, and training some of the insurgents in Iraq.

In recent months, Washington has been swamped by rumor, speculation, and news stories, attributed to unnamed sources, of possible U.S. military action against Iran. The rumor mill has been fed by the harsh rhetoric from the Bush administration about Iran.

Alex Vatanka, a security analyst with Jane's Information Group, says the rhetorical escalation masks two parallel debates: one within the Bush administration about what to do about Iran, and a corresponding one in Tehran about how to respond to the U.S.

"While there is no clear-cut decision on how to tackle Iran, at the very least the U.S. wants to maintain a public pressure on the Iranians and feed that debate that's going on in Iran," he said. "And there's a very lively debate going on in Iran about what actions they should take vis-à-vis the U.S. about Iraq, about the nuclear issue.

Neoconservatives inside and outside the U.S. administration are pushing for tough action against Iran to both cut its alleged meddling in Iraq and stop its nuclear program. Other officials want to pile on new sanctions and increase diplomatic pressure to contain Iran.

Michael Ledeen, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute who has close ties to the Bush administration, dismisses sanctions as ineffective and negotiations with Tehran as a waste of time.

Ledeen, who just published a book entitled "The Iranian Time Bomb," says he does not support military action against Iran, but says the U.S. should be fomenting regime change internally.

"I want to support revolution," he said. "If it worked with the Soviet Union, why wouldn't it work with Iran?"

But David Isenberg, a senior analyst with the British American Security Information Council, says Ledeen's book sees war as the end option if internal regime change fails.

"It really doesn't come right out and say, 'bomb that,' [but] the language is such that is kind of leads fairly close to inexorably that, well, yes, that is probably what we will ultimately have to do, although, yes, we'll fund the domestic political opposition first and see if we can do something with that," said Isenberg.

Stories were leaked to American media that the Bush administration was considering putting Iran's Revolutionary Guards on the list of sponsors of terrorism. However, no such move has actually been made. George Friedman, chief officer of the private intelligence firm Stratfor, says the Bush administration's policy for now, at least, is to keep Iran off balance.

"What we are signaling to the Iranians, however, is that the United States is prepared to go some distance militarily to punish Iran for actions that they're taking," said Friedman. "Now, that is a very serious threat if the Iranians believe it and the Americans are capable of it."

But analysts add the leadership in Tehran is also keeping Washington and the Europeans off balance with the unanswered question of how, and where, Iran might retaliate against any military action.