What's next? U.S. set sights on Iran, North Korea

Friday, April 4, 2003

The Bush administration has pledged to end the nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea after concluding its campaign against the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.

Administration officials said the White House sees the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea as the next imminent threats.

"In the aftermath of Iraq, dealing with the Iranian nuclear weapons program will be of equal importance as dealing with the North Korean nuclear weapons program," Assistant Secretary of State John Bolton said. "This is going to be a substantial challenge."

Bolton told a conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee that the Iranian nuclear weapons program would receive "extremely high priority" under the Bush administration, Middle East Newsline reported. He said Iran is steadily advancing toward nuclear weapons capability, a development confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency inspection of two Iranian facilities in February.

"The estimate we have of how close the Iranians are to production of nuclear weapons grows closer each day," Bolton said. "The IAEA was stunned by the sophistication of the Iranian effort."

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice agreed. She said Iran will continue to be regarded as a rogue regime and would come under close examination by Washington.

"Sometimes people think we're a little bit 'the-sky-is-falling, the-sky-is-falling' on these regimes that the president called the axis of evil," Rice said. "Once we have a better atmosphere after Iraq, one of the things we're going to have to look at is how the world gets itself better organized to deal with issues concerning weapons of mass destruction."

The State Department signalled that it agreed with plans by the administration to make Iran a priority after the war with Iraq. Officials said Washington is trying to stop nuclear supplies from Russia and other countries to Iran.

"Obviously, our concern about nuclear developments in Iran has only grown in recent months with the kind of information that has been coming out on Iran's nuclear fuel cycle," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "And obviously, equally obviously, we are engaged in an effort with governments that may have some form of nuclear cooperation with Iran to try to point out these new facts and make sure that they understand this is why we have opposed it all along.

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