People & Power examines a dispute taking place against much sabre-rattling but in which the truth is hard to pin down.
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With every passing month the international dispute over Iran's nuclear programme becomes more intractable.
On the one side, the West and Israel are convinced that Iran is
working towards a nuclear weapon and are determined that this should
never be allowed to become reality - even if that ultimately means
taking military action to prevent it. On the other side, Iran insists
that its nuclear project is purely peaceful and that its controversial
uranium enrichment programme is aimed only at producing fuel for the
Iranian economy and medical isotopes for use in its health services.
Definitive evidence in support of either claim is hard to find and
what evidence there is is often disputed. Nevertheless the UN's
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has long expressed concern
about Iran's nuclear programme. In November 2011, for example, it
reported that Iran had carried out activities "relevant to the
development of a nuclear explosive device". It said that its
investigations had uncovered alleged Iranian testing of explosives,
experiments on detonating a nuclear weapon, and what appears to be work
on 'weaponisation' - the processes by which a nuclear device could be
adapted to fit into a rocket or missile. It also said that Iran may have
used computer modelling to look at how effective a nuclear device would
Some of these activities, one might think, could only be of relevance
to a nuclear weapons programme, but the agency has never said
definitively that Iran has mastered the process, nor has it said how
long it would take Iran to make a bomb, should that be its ultimate
Iran's response to these allegations has not wavered. It insists that
all the claims are politically motivated and that it is simply doing
what it is entitled to do as a sovereign state and as a signatory to the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It says it is the victim of an
Israeli and US-led conspiracy and points to the unexplained murder of
five of its top nuclear scientists in the last two years. The most
recent of these came in January this year, when Iranian nuclear
physicist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was killed after two men on a motorcycle
attached a magnetic bomb to his car. It later emerged that he was on
his way to a ceremony commemorating the death of one of his colleagues,
Masoud Ali Mohammadi, who was assassinated in January 2010 in front of
his home by a bomb attached to a motorcycle.
Nevertheless, as tension escalates, the position of both sides has
hardened. On a recent visit to the US to discuss the issue with Barack
Obama, the US president, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime
minister, publicly restated Israel's position - that it reserves the
right to defend itself against the threat from Iran. In turn, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has said: "The Iranian nation will
not succumb to bullying, invasion and the violation of its rights."
Neither statement does much to diminish international anxiety that
one day soon this issue might end in Israeli or US airstrikes on Iranian
facilities such as the Natanz nuclear reactor - which could turn lead
to retaliation from Iran and another war in the Middle East.
So is Iran really building a nuclear weapon or are its activities
peaceful as it claims? Would Israel really attack Iran's nuclear
facilities and why is it so determined to remain the only country in the
region with the bomb? This episode of People & Power looks at the background to a dispute taking place against much sabre-rattling but in which the truth is harder to pin down.