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We have a year to tackle Iran, says Cameron

London Telegraph | May 23, 2007 
David Blair

Iran could be able to build a nuclear bomb in less than a year and confronts the world with one of its most "urgent" threats, David Cameron said yesterday.

In his first detailed statement on Iran, the Conservative leader urged the Government to mobilise the United Nations Security Council and the European Union to impose tougher sanctions on Teheran.

"Every week, every month that goes by brings Iran closer to possessing a nuclear weapon," said Mr Cameron.

"We have to recognise that the next Government of this country could face continuing violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran."

Mr Cameron declined to rule out supporting military action against Teheran's nuclear facilities. But he stressed the drawbacks, saying that "Iran having a nuclear weapon would be calamity but military action could be calamitous".

Iran is defying three United Nations resolutions by continuing to enrich uranium at its nuclear plant in Natanz. This highly sensitive process could be used to manufacture weapons-grade uranium. Once it has enough of this essential material, Iran could build a nuclear bomb.

The Government's efforts to stop Iran from reaching this point were not working, said Mr Cameron, and a new package of "penalties and incentives" was needed. "Make no mistake, the threat is growing, the scale and urgency of our response needs to match it," he said.

In particular, he said that an arms embargo should be imposed on Iran. The key figures running its nuclear programme should be banned from travelling and their overseas assets frozen.

The EU, which is Iran's biggest trading partner, should restrict export credits to Teheran, which are presently worth £9 billion. All investment in Iran's crucial oil and natural gas industries should be curtailed.

But the measures suggested by Mr Cameron would take years to impose real costs on Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime plans to complete its nuclear facility in Natanz by the end of this month.

If successful, Iran would then have 3,000 operational centrifuges, the machines used for enrichment. Under these conditions, a briefing released by Mr Cameron said: "Iran would need approximately six to 12 months to produce enough highly enriched uranium for its first nuclear weapon."

Once the Natanz nuclear enrichment plant was fully operational, Iran would have another option. It could stockpile low enriched uranium. With this in hand, Iran could then formally withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expel the UN's nuclear inspectors and quickly enrich the uranium to weapons-grade level.

This would give Teheran the "break-out" option, allowing it to breach international safeguards and produce a nuclear weapon in months. This rapid timetable would minimise the opening for international pressure or economic sanctions.

Mr Ahmadinejad has denied that the nuclear programme was for military use. He said that it was to generate electricity for a growing population.

A security analyst told British MPs yesterday that Iran was conducting reconnaissance of European cities and nuclear power stations.

Claude Moniquet, the president of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre, a Right-wing Brussels think-tank, told a meeting at Parliament that Iran appeared to be preparing to target "British citizens on the streets of London... just as they kill British soldiers in the south of Iraq".

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