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To this day, Iranian officials assert that their uranium-enrichment activities are purely for energy or research purposes rather than military ones. "There's no place for nuclear weapons in our national security doctrine," Larijani told TIME. He points out that Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa forbidding the use of nuclear weapons. But such claims were undermined again in January when the IAEA reported an administrative link between a uranium-conversion program known as Green Salt and efforts to weaponize missiles that, for the first time, appeared to show an attempt to harness the nuclear program for military purposes.
Is Iran Close To Getting the Bomb?
NOT NECESSARILY. UNDERPINNING THE current air of crisis is uncertainty about how soon Iran could manage bomb production. Western intelligence on the intentions and capabilities of nuclear aspirants is notoriously unreliable. Thus far, the IAEA says, Iran has the knowledge but not the capacity to make weapons. Some experts say that if Iran's enrichment facilities became fully operational, they could churn out enough material to construct two bombs a year. John Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence, said recently that "Iran, if it continues on its current path, will likely have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon within the next decade." What is already worrisome is that once Iran has the fissile material to make a bomb, it would have ready ways to threaten to use it. In 2004 Iran unveiled the Shahab-3 missile, with a range long enough to reach Israel and southern Europe. At the military parade in which it was first shown, one of the missiles carried the scrawl WIPE ISRAEL OFF THE MAP!
For years Iran alternately hid its activities and negotiated with the West over their scope. Over the past three years, both sides have focused on rebuilding confidence rather than provoking confrontation, but those overtures have lately all but vanished amid Iran's increasingly provocative behavior.
Why Is Iran Picking a Fight?
MANY IRANIANS POINT TO THE POLITICAL ambitions of Ahmadinejad. The hard-line President who just squeezed past more experienced candidates to take office has seized on the nuclear issue to cement his claim to power, according to some top government advisers. He can bypass the ruling clerics by appealing to the street, framing the right to nuclear energy as a populist cause and the centerpiece of his campaign to restore revolutionary ideals--and solidify his base in the military and revolutionary apparatus. That requires a return to the 1980s atmosphere of siege, rallying Iranians by whipping up animosity toward a common enemy, the West. To a generation forged in the heat of revolution and war, diplomacy is akin to slow surrender. "He's using the nuclear issue," says a Tehran political science professor, "to send a message to the Iranian people that he's tough, capable of standing up for Iran and fundamentally different from his soft predecessors."