The US, Britain and France turned up the pressure on Tehran on Thursday ahead of next week’s release of a keenly awaited UN report that may offer new details about the military side of Iran’s nuclear program.
Washington and its European allies suspect that Iran is developing the capability to produce atomic weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear energy program. Iran denies wanting atom bombs and insists its program is for generating electricity.
The report by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is expected to unveil detailed intelligence pointing to military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, while stopping short of saying explicitly that Tehran is trying to build such weapons.
“One [issue] in particular that I want to mention is the continuing threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program,” US President Barack Obama told reporters ahead of a G20 heads of state summit in the French resort of Cannes.
“The IAEA is scheduled to release a report on Iran’s nuclear program next week and [French] President [Nicolas] Sarkozy and I agree on the need to maintain the unprecedented pressure on Iran to meet its obligations,” Obama said.
The US, EU and their allies around the world have imposed economic sanctions on Tehran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program, which Western powers believe is at the heart of an Iranian atom bomb program.
The US and Israel have repeatedly hinted at the possible use of force against Iranian nuclear sites, eliciting threats of fierce retaliation from the Islamic Republic.
The UN Security Council, with the backing of Iran’s traditional sympathizers Russia and China, has imposed four rounds of increasingly tough sanctions on Tehran since 2006.
Responding to a newspaper report that Britain was stepping up military contingency plans amid mounting concerns about Iran, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office said on Wednesday that London was keeping all options open — including the possibility of military action.
“We want a negotiated solution, but all options should be kept on the table,” a Foreign Office spokesperson said.
The report in the Guardian, without citing a source, said Britain’s Ministry of Defense believed the US might accelerate plans for missile strikes at some key Iranian facilities and cited British officials as saying it would seek and receive military help from Britain for any mission.
UN diplomats in New York and government officials elsewhere called the Guardian report exaggerated. They said Israel would be more likely to use military force against Iranian nuclear facilities than the US, which is bogged down in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The pressure on Iran comes weeks after the US accused Iran of plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, an allegation Tehran denied.
US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland reiterated that the Obama administration was not closing the door on any options in dealing with Tehran’s nuclear program.
“We have said many times in the last weeks and months that we do not seek a military confrontation with Iran,” she said.
“That said, we are going to use every means at our disposal to continue to try to increase the international pressure on Iran to meet its IAEA obligations and to come clean on its nuclear program,” Nuland told reporters in Washington.