US lawmakers vow swift action after Iran nuclear claim

United States lawmakers are vowing quick action against Iran following a report that weapons experts believe Tehran has the know-how to build an atomic bomb, even as a senior US official downplayed the news article.

A chorus of congressional voices, both Republican and Democratic, urged tough action against Tehran following a New York Times report that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has determined Iran now has “sufficient information” to build a nuclear weapon.

US lawmakers said the revelation warranted an immediate and severe response.

“The Iranians will have a nuclear weapon if something doesn’t change their minds. We need tough sanctions. We need to do them now,” Democratic Senator Evan Bayh told Fox News Sunday.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading congressional voice on defence and security matters, said he would like Congress to set aside a week dedicated to a raft of new sanctions legislation against the Islamic republic.

“Let’s have Iran week in the Senate and get something done,” he said, proposing to discuss a series of measures “that would empower the president and our country to be tough and to put actions behind words”.

But a top White House adviser downplayed the report, telling US television that Washington would “stand by the reports that we’ve put out,” regarding Iran’s nuclear ability.

The Times noted on Monday that past experiences in enforcing restrictions on trade with Iran suggests it would be difficult to truly quarantine the Iranian economy.

Black market networks have sprouted up all over the globe to circumvent the sanctions, the newspaper pointed out.

“The Iranians have a lot of experience at this point in evading sanctions,” said Michael Jacobson, an intelligence and sanctions specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, is quoted by the paper as saying.

“They are adaptable, learn from mistakes, see where the United States cracks down and move elsewhere.
And on the part of businesses, there is a lot of willful blindness.”

Lawmakers said they still supported US initiatives to engage Tehran in talks, but were losing faith in the prospect that diplomacy alone will force Iran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons programme.

“Having this dialogue is good, but you’ve got to hold them to their word. What matters ultimately is not what they say, but what they do,” said Bayh.

“I’m afraid they’re running the clock on us,” he said, pointing to “a real sense of urgency” in the nuclear standoff.

Meanwhile, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice stressed on Sunday that six world powers collectively known as the P5 + 1 were in “intense negotiations” with Tehran over its controversial nuclear drive, calling recent diplomatic inroads “only a beginning”.

“The onus is now squarely on Iran to adhere to the commitments it has made,” Rice told NBC television.

The Times report followed recent revelations that Iran secretly built a second uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom, which further raised suspicions about the aim of its controversial nuclear program.

The report described a complex program apparently launched in 2002 and run by the Iranian Defense Ministry that seeks to develop “a nuclear payload to be delivered using the Shahab 3 (medium-range) missile system.”

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei earlier said that agency experts will inspect the Qom plan on October 25 as he praised Tehran’s shift “from conspiracy to cooperation” while warning that “concerns” remain over its nuclear aims.

“They have a pattern of deception, a pattern of breaking agreements they agree to,” Bayh said. “They respect strength and strength alone.”

Other lawmakers echoed limited confidence in the negotiation process and suggested Iran could not be trusted to keep its word.

Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said talks with Iran would yield more results with sanctions already in place.

“Let’s impose sanctions, let’s get our allies together and say this is what we’re going to do,” he said.

The Iranian regime could then be warned that it needs to “come clean” on its weapons program, the conservative lawmaker added. Continuing dialogue with Tehran, he said, would not achieve results.

ElBaradei, however, insisted that he feels “Iran’s case can be solved through dialogue.”—AFP

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