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Monday, June 19, 2006

Iran may be able to produce nuclear bomb by 2010: Blix

JAKARTA (AP): The former U.N. chief weapons inspector said Iran will be able to produce a nuclear bomb within five years if it is allowed to enrich uranium on an industrial scale.

"It is a matter of will," Hans Blix told The Associated Press, adding that while Iranian leaders now say they have no desire to build atomic arms and want UN inspectors to oversee their facilities, "they might change their mind."

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, have offered Iran a package of incentives in return for a long-term moratorium on enrichment -- a process that can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or material for atomic weapons. The package calls on Iran to suspend enrichment for the duration of any negotiations.

Iran has not responded formally so far, saying it is still reviewing the package, and may propose amendments to the deal. But its officials have insisted that enrichment is an inalienable right and that talks must be unconditional.

"By 2010, 2011 they could probably have a nuclear weapon, if they want it," Blix said after handing Indonesian officials a copy of a report released earlier this month by the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission.

He said he thought that was why the Western world would likely continue to stand very firmly against any industrial-scale enrichment in Iran, even though most nations support its right to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

"The Western world is not against Iran moving into the modern nuclear age, that is recognized," Blix said. "But it is saying, 'Please stay away from enrichment of uranium ... because it will raise tension in the Middle East. You can buy it abroad'." (***)
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