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The day before a new report on Iran's nuclear program is expected to be released, China spoke out against any use of force to stop the program's progress, but also urged Iran to "show flexibility and sincerity."
Based on leaks ahead of the official release, the report is expected to reveal that Iran is further along in its nuclear program than previously believed. Those expectations have already prompted a flurry of fighting words and, in response, efforts to tone down discussions among world leaders.
According to the Associated Press, the report will "suggest that Iran made computer models of a nuclear warhead and include satellite imagery of what the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] believes is a large steel container used for nuclear arms-related high explosives tests."
Iran, which has long insisted that its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes, yesterday reiterated its assertion that it is not developing nuclear weapons. Agence France-Presse reports that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday accused the US and Israel of seeking international support for a military strike on Iran, while Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said, “We have repeatedly stated that we are not going to create nuclear weapons."
A senior US official told the AP that he expects the report's release will harden the resolve of American allies, particularly those in Europe, to put more pressure on Iran. The US government plans to use the report as leverage in its argument for expanding and strengthening current sanctions on Iran.
Unsurprisingly, Israel is in the spotlight. In August 2010, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a piece for the Atlantic based on conversations with former and current Israeli government officials that predicted that Israel, nervous about Iran's nuclear capabilities, would bomb Iran by July 2011. That prediction did not bear out, but this IAEA report has revived speculation, fanned by comments from Israeli officials, that a strike on Iran is still on the table.
On Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres, who is a former Nobel peace laureate but lacks significant executive power in his current post, said that an attack on Iran was becoming more likely, according to the BBC. On Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak equivocated, saying that he did not think the international community had the will to impose tougher sanctions, but that Israel had made no military decisions of its own on Iran, the Jerusalem Post reports. He also said that Israel did not feel obligated to get US approval for a strike on Iran.
The renewed flurry of speculation over a possible Israeli strike on Iran has prompted world leaders to warn against such rhetoric.
On Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that speculation about a strike on Iran only strengthened the Iranian leadership's hand, Reuters reports. However, if the report reveals a lack of Iranian cooperation, the "international community will not simply return to business as usual," Mr. Westerwelle said.
Also on Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for Israel and other countries making threatening statements about Iran to calm down, Russian news outlet RIA Novosti reports.
“As for the belligerent statements that Israel or anyone else is ready to apply force against Iran...that’s pretty dangerous rhetoric,” Medvedev said at a joint press conference with his German counterpart Christian Wulff.
“We realize that emotions in the Middle East are running high… the peace process has reached a dead end, there is no development. But military rhetoric could have grave consequences, all the way to conflict,” Medvedev went on.
He called on the Middle East to “breathe out, calm down and continue constructive discussion of the questions on the agenda, rather than threaten with strikes.”
France has also made an effort to calm the rhetoric. While acknowledging that France is "very worried" about a nuclear Iran, Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said France opposes any military action against Iran, the Jerusalem Post reports. If the report reveals that Iran is building nuclear weapons, France will support stronger sanctions, Mr. Juppé said.
British editorials revealed skittishness about the heated language coming out of Israel. In a Guardian editorial headlined, "Israel is unwise to raise the nuclear stakes," the editorial board argues that the threats from Israel have more substance this time around.
If the report is significant, it is because with each new IAEA report on Iran comes a familiar diplomatic ritual of threatened new sanctions from the US and its allies and reports of threatened military strikes from Israel. If there is a difference this time, it is in the strong impression, after years of veiled threats from Israel, that it will act alone if necessary to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, that the country's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and his closest allies in a cabinet split on the issue would like to launch a pre-emptive military strike, a view opposed by other senior figures in Israel's security establishment.
Whatever Netanyahu is thinking, he is playing a high-risk game for even higher stakes, betting Israel's security and international prestige against an uncertain outcome, even by allowing it to be suggested that Israel might strike.