Iran defiant as West threatens action over nuclear project
Calls in Israel for pre-emptive strike
A war of words broke out last night between Iran and Western powers over allegations that it was moving definitively closer to a nuclear weapons capacity.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian foreign minister, said the country was "always ready for war" and warned the US against "entering a collision course" with the Islamic Republic.
Downing Street confirmed that "all options remained on the table", including the use of force, as Britain considered its response to growing calls within Israel for a pre-emptive strike against the nuclear programme.
"The British government believes that a dual-track strategy of pressure and engagement is the best approach to address the threat from Iran's nuclear programme and avoid regional conflicts," a spokesman said.
Diplomats said that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had substantiated evidence that Iran was running a weapons programme alongside its known civilian nuclear programme.
The IAEA report, due to be released later this month, is likely to lead to resolutions before the United Nations for more sanctions against Iranian institutions, possibly including the Central Bank of Iran, which would have a severe effect on the country's faltering economy.
It is not clear what new evidence the IAEA has, but it is likely to focus on Iran's capacities in building missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.
A UN panel earlier this year concluded that Iran had been co-operating with North Korea -- which already has a nuclear weapons capability in defiance of the UN -- on developing weapons systems.
The Israeli cabinet is split on whether the benefits of a pre-emptive strike on the programme outweigh the inevitable consequences of retaliation. Analysts say the main danger is that Iran will stop short of actually building a nuclear weapon, but leave itself with sufficient 'breakout capacity' -- the ability to do so quickly -- that it will become a de facto nuclear power with the strategic weight and deterrent effect that implies. That would leave Israel in an ever-more isolated position, unable to assert its own security but without a pretext for attacking its main regional enemy.
Iran has always denied having a nuclear weapons programme, saying it would be "unIslamic".
In preparation for a possible attack, Israel simulated a mass-casualty missile attack in and around Tel Aviv yesterday. Sirens wailed across the city during an exercise to test the response of the emergency services in the event of both conventional and non-conventional strikes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)