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Iran nuclear capability raises worry for Israel, US

JERUSALEM -- The chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency said yesterday Iran was on the brink of enriching uranium, a process key to building a nuclear bomb.

"The assessment is that by the end of 2005 the Iranians will reach the point of no return from the technological perspective of creating a uranium-enrichment capability," Mossad head Meir Dagan told parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is for energy needs only, agreed in November to suspend uranium enrichment under a European Union-brokered deal. Israel and the United States suspect Iran of buying time while it covertly seeks the bomb.

"The Iranians are striving to secure from the Europeans an agreement that would allow them to continue enriching uranium, even on an intensified level, under supervision and with guarantees," Dagan said.

"The moment that you have the technology for enrichment, you are home free," he said, adding that from that point it would take Iran around two years to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Iran, and any Israeli preemption, are concerns for President Bush as he begins his second term in office.

"If, in fact, the Israelis become convinced the Iranians had significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards," Vice President Dick Cheney said last week.

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