Analysis - Iran's nuclear steps deepen Western suspicions
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA (Reuters) - Expanding uranium enrichment, a new atomic energy chief said to have military expertise, missile tests -- Western analysts see fresh signs that Iran may be seeking to develop the means to build nuclear warheads.
Iran's determination to press ahead with a nuclear programme it says is for purely peaceful purposes suggests that tougher Western sanctions are so far failing to force the Islamic state to back down in the long-running dispute over its atomic aims.
"Although developments elsewhere in the Middle East have dominated media attention, Iran has been working hard in several ways to advance a nuclear weapons capability," London-based proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick said.
"It needs fissile material, weaponisation expertise and a delivery vehicle. On each of these, it has been making progress," Fitzpatrick, a director at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank, said.
But even if Tehran decided to make such weapons it could still be years away from having nuclear-armed missiles, possibly giving diplomacy more opportunities to resolve a row which has the potential to spark a Middle East conflict.
World powers failed to make any progress in two rounds of talks with Iran half a year ago and no new meetings have been announced, leaving the diplomatic track apparently deadlocked.
"While difficult, Western capitals need to redouble their diplomatic effort to dissuade Iran from taking the nuclear weapons path," Daryl Kimball, director of the Washington-based research and advocacy group Arms Control Association, said.
Kimball said Iran was closer to a capability to make atomic weapons but it "apparently has not yet made a strategic decision to do so and is still years, not months, away from building a deliverable nuclear arsenal." Continued...