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. US increasingly concerned about Iranian threat: Gates
WASHINGTON, June 9 (AFP) Jun 09, 2009
The United States is increasingly concerned about recent advances in Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.

"Our concern about the nature of the Iran problem has continued to rise as they continue to make further progress in enriching uranium," Gates told a Senate Appropriations Committee panel, "and also as they have enjoyed some success in their missile field."

The United States and other Western powers suspect that Iran is using its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons, but Tehran insists it merely aims to produce civilian nuclear energy.

"Our concern with Iran, with Iran's programs -- and I believe I can say also Israel's -- has continued to grow given the unwillingness of the Iranians to slow, stop or even indicate a willingness to talk about their programs," Gates said.

Israel, widely considered to be the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear armed power, has not ruled out military action against nuclear sites in the Islamic Republic, which it considers its main enemy.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map." But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Sunday that Iran would face "retaliation" if it launched a nuclear attack on Israel.

And President Barack Obama said Saturday during a visit in the northern French city of Caen that it would be "profoundly dangerous" for Iran to get a nuclear bomb.

In late May, Iran, which faces presidential elections on Friday, test-fired a new surface-to-surface missile called Sejil-2 with a range of up to 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers).

Iran was still defying the United Nations Security Council and has so far amassed 1,339 kilograms of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a restricted report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

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