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. US threat to Iran lessens despite Tehran defiance: think tank
LONDON, Feb 5 (AFP) Feb 05, 2008
The threat of US military action against Iran has decreased, even though Tehran seems determined to flout United Nations resolutions, a leading security think tank said Tuesday.

There is no near-term prospect of US strikes on Iran even though Tehran is making progress with a new generation of nuclear centrifuges, said the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

December's US National Intelligence Estimate report concluded that Tehran had shelved its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. Iran rejects Western fears that it is covertly developing nuclear weapons.

The NIE consensus finding of all 16 US spy agencies "changed the dynamics of efforts to curb Iran's dual-use nuclear programme," said Doctor John Chipman, the IISS director-general and chief executive.

"It had the effect of taking off the table the near-term prospect of US military action."

Russia's delivery of 82 tonnes of low-enriched uranium fuel "removed another form of leverage over Iran although it also underscored questions about the purpose of the Natanz enrichment plan," he told reporters.

The UN Security Council held informal talks earlier this month on a third sanctions resolution. Proposed new measures include an outright travel ban on officials involved in Tehran's nuclear and missile programmes and inspections of shipments to and from Iran.

In calling for vigilance, a third resolution "would provide the basis for further independent European Union action in restricting trade credits and interactions with Iranian national banks," Chipman said.

A "deepening cutback in Western investment" would potentially add to Iran's "economic troubles", he added.

However, "Iran shows no sign of abiding by Security Council demands to stop its current enrichment activity and indeed Tehran is moving ahead with a new generation of more efficient centrifuges," he said.

Chipman said the report due later this month by the UN's nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei's should "shed more light" on that issue.

"Confirmation of Iranian progress with the new centrifuges would, in principle, add to the sense of urgency about how soon Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon," he said.

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