September 17, 2003 at 11:53:46 PDT
State Dept. Official Warns of Iran Threat
By KEN GUGGENHEIM
WASHINGTON (AP) -
Iran's nuclear program is a threat to the Middle East as well as the United States, a State Department official told U.S. and Israeli lawmakers Wednesday.
Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance, told the U.S.-Israel Joint Parliamentary Committee that Iran is likely to develop missiles capable of reaching the United States or Western Europe.
DeSutter's comments were echoed by the four U.S. lawmakers and four Israeli Knesset members on the panel.
Israeli lawmaker Yuval Steinitz warned that Iran's nuclear program could reach the "point of no return" by next year. "Time is running out," he said.
U.S. analysts believe Iran is years away from a nuclear weapon, even with significant foreign assistance.
Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said he has provided intelligence agencies with information from contacts outside of Iran that Iran may have sent three emissaries to North Korea because of the North's "desire to work with Iran on nuclear capability."
He said he is "desperately concerned about what's happening in Iran."
Iran has until the end of October to prove to the International Atomic Energy Agency that it does not have a nuclear weapons program. Iran insists its nuclear program is for civil energy purposes, but the discovery of weapons-grade enriched uranium and other evidence suggests it could be intended for weapons.
The United States has maintained that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and DeSutter said Iran's program, if unchallenged, could weaken the IAEA and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
"Already faced with North Korea's brazen disregard for its treaty obligations, the (treaty) would be undermined still further if Iran were able to disregard its treaty obligations in a similar way," she said.
North Korea has withdrawn from the treaty and said it is making nuclear weapons.
Responding to lawmakers' questions, DeSutter expressed confidence in the IAEA's proceedings.
"It would be difficult for me to imagine that the IAEA findings would be sharply contrary to what we could live with," she said.
If the IAEA finds Iran violated the treaty, the matter would likely go to the U.N. Security Council. DeSutter did not say what action she expected from the Security Council.
Questioned about U.S. relations with Iranian opposition groups, DeSutter said the U.S. role is to encourage them without being directly involved. She said they "may be the best hope" for changing Iran's policies.
When an Israeli lawmaker alluded to Secretary of State Colin Powell's order closing two offices of an Iranian opposition group last month, DeSutter said he was obliged to do so because the group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, was associated with the Mujahedeen Khalq, which the State Department considers a terrorist organization.
The parliamentary panel was formed to enhance U.S.-Israeli relations. It was meeting for the second time in five years. http://www.lasvegassun.com/sunbin/stories/w-me/2003/sep/17/091702892.html