The study by the Non-proliferation Policy Education Center, which was partly funded by the Pentagon, said U.S. talks with Iran on the nuclear issue -- which the Bush administration opposes -- would be "self-defeating." Reuters
By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
WASHINGTON - Iran could acquire a nuclear bomb in the next one to four years and would become more willing to aid terrorist groups once it has an atomic capability, according to a U.S. study released on Tuesday.
The study by the Non-proliferation Policy Education Center, which was partly funded by the Pentagon, said U.S. talks with Iran on the nuclear issue -- which the Bush administration opposes -- would be "self-defeating."
Instead it proposed steps like pressing Israel to freeze its own atomic capability, raise the cost of Iran going nuclear and dissuade other countries from following Tehran.
"Iran is now no more than 12 to 48 months from acquiring a nuclear bomb, lacks for nothing technologically or materially to produce it and seems dead set on securing the option to do so," said the thinktank's study, headed by Henry Sokolski.
"As for the most popular policy options -- to bomb or bribe Iran -- only a handful of analysts and officials are willing to admit publicly how self-defeating these courses of action might be," it added.
The study addresses a thorny problem confronting the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog.
Washington accuses Iran of pursuing a nuclear bomb, while Tehran insists it is developing a peaceful energy program.
After two years of investigation, the IAEA, cannot rule out a secret Iran bomb plan but has no concrete proof, its director general, Mohammed ElBaradei, said on Tuesday.
During talks in Vienna this week, Washington urged the IAEA to ratchet up the pressure on Iran by referring the nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council.
Secretary of State Colin Powell ruled out direct talks with Tehran, saying in an interview with Reuters "we just don't want to make it a U.S. and Iran issue."
As for when Iran might acquire a bomb, Powell said: "I don't think they are days or months away from such a development," suggesting there is still time for diplomacy to work.
The report, based on research papers and meetings with experts on Iran, the Middle East and non-proliferation, said if Iran gets the bomb it would pose a heightened threat in three key areas.
Countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Algeria might move to develop their own nuclear options.
Oil prices would increase dramatically, forced upward by Iranian threats to freedom of the seas.
And "with a nuclear weapons option acting as a deterrent to U.S. and allied actions against it, Iran would likely lend greater support to terrorists operating against Israel, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Europe and the U.S.," the study said.
Because eliminating Iran's nuclear option "may no longer be possible," Washington and its allies must take other steps to curb Tehran once it got the bomb, the study said.
These include persuading Israel to initiate a nuclear restraint effort that would close down its Dimona reactor and isolate Iran as a regional producer of fissile materials.
It is also recommended that the U.S. offer Russia some sort of compensation for ending its nuclear cooperation with Iran.