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UN report on Iran's nuclear progress signals tricky road ahead for Obama

Iran doubled its capacity at an underground enrichment site, the IAEA reported. Israeli officials say Netanyahu will ask Obama in September to commit to military action to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapons capability.

By Staff writer / August 31, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pictured in this Aug. 27 photo, in Jerusalem, is expected to meet with President Obama when he is in the US in September to attend the UN General Assembly.

Gali Tibbon/AP

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UNITED NATIONS, N.Y.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency’s latest estimates of progress in Iran’s uranium enrichment program are a guarantee – if there was ever any doubt – that Iran, and Israel, are two foreign policy issues that aren’t going to sit on hold until after the US presidential election.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is already putting the US on notice that he has no intentions of keeping his concerns about Iran in a pocket until after November. Mr. Netanyahu is expected to meet with President Obama when he is in the US in September to attend the UN General Assembly.

Netanyahu says he will focus on the dangers Iran poses to global peace and security when he addresses the assembly, and Israeli officials have said he will use the expected meeting with Mr. Obama to seek a US commitment to take military action to stop Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report finds that Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges at an underground nuclear site. Centrifuges are machines used to spin uranium rapidly to increase its purity for use in nuclear reactors – or to produce fuel for nuclear bombs.

The report also concludes that Iran has stymied all efforts by the IAEA to access the underground Fordo site and determine how operational it is and what functions it is capable of undertaking. But it says that over the summer Iran has installed three-quarters of the centrifuges it would need to begin producing nuclear fuel at the site.

The underground Fordo site is so worrisome, in particular to Israel, because it presumably would put Iran’s nuclear fuel production out of reach of all but the most sophisticated and penetrating military capabilities – such as those held by the US.

The White House reacted to the IAEA report Thursday by saying that the “window” for resolving the Iranian nuclear challenge other than by use of force “will not remain open indefinitely.” But it said there is still “time and space” for diplomacy and the harsh economic sanctions the world has imposed to convince Iran to alter its course.

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