INTERVIEW-Israel urges tough diplomacy this year on Iran
By Sue Pleming and Carol Giacomo
WASHINGTON, April 18 (Reuters) - There is still time this year to deal with Iran diplomatically to halt its nuclear program, but a military option may await if such pressure fails, Israel's envoy to the United States said on Wednesday.
In an interview with Reuters, Israeli Ambassador Sallai Meridor said it appeared Tehran was going "full speed" with its effort to have mastered the technology of enriching uranium needed to produce a bomb and that world powers must act.
"We are extremely concerned by Iran's continued effort to expand their enrichment activities," he said. "It seems that they are developing a large-scale centrifuge plan," he added,
A confidential U.N. nuclear watchdog document obtained by Reuters on Wednesday said Iran had begun making nuclear fuel in its underground uranium enrichment plant.
In addition, Tehran had 1,300 centrifuge machines, divided into eight cascades, or networks, in its Natanz complex, in a drive to lay a basis for "industrial scale" enrichment, said the document.
Iran argues its nuclear program is for civilian power purposes and is not intended at building a bomb.
Meridor predicted diplomacy had this year to run its course to pressure Iran to stop its enrichment program but he stressed Iran needed to know that all options, including the military one, were on the table if such diplomatic pressure failed.
"We hope, but we are not sure, that it will be not unsafe to assume that at least in '07 there is still time for diplomacy ... with the projection of all options on the table to have an impact."
A U.S. intelligence assessment estimates Iran could develop a bomb early into the next decade, between 2010 and 2015, but some experts say recent advances by Iran in enriching uranium could speed up that timeline prediction.
Asked whether he thought military action could ultimately be used against Iran, particularly as the United States is so bogged down in Iraq, the envoy said he hoped that would not be the case.
"But at the same time, it is critical that the Iranians understand that if other ways are not resulting in a positive result ... if all other measures fail, still a military option may be awaiting them," he said.
Asked whether Israel would act militarily without informing the United States, he said, "When we get to the bridge we will see what we do."
Iran has been slapped twice with U.N. Security Council sanctions in the past year in an effort to get Tehran to give up its uranium enrichment program.
Meridor said there needed to be more determination in imposing those economic measures so Iran knew the world was serious.
"The more options they perceive viable, the higher the chances are that they would take it seriously," he said. (Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed)
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