U.S. could take action against Iran as early as April, former weapons inspector warns

By Peter Duveen

PETER'S NEW YORK, March 9, 2008 -- While it is impossible to predict the behavior of nations, the United States could commence military action against Iran as early as April, a former U.N. weapons inspector warned.

"I'd be very concerned about the month of April," said Scott Ritter, a U.N. weapons inspector for Iraq from 1991 to 1998, in answer to a question about when the United States could initiate military action against Iran. Ritter stated, however, that it was not possible to predict exactly if or when the United States would act.

Ritter's remarks were made following an address to a gathering at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Albany, New York yesterday. He warned of the imminent danger of military engagement between Iran and the United States.


Ritter
Albany, New York -- Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, right, addresses a gathering at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany,
on the possibility of U.S. military action against Iran. Third from right is Fatemeh Keshavarz, author and professor of Persian and comparative literature at Washington University, St. Louis.


Comparing recent U.S. policy to the "pouring of gasoline  into the basement of the nation called Iran," Ritter noted that "we just need that one spark" to trigger serious military engagement. In support of his thesis, he noted that U.S. President George W. Bush "wants to resolve the Iranian situation prior to leaving office" at the beginning of 2009. He compared the situation to that of Europe just prior to the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, which plunged the entire continent into war. Even a small event such as an errant artillery shell or a suicide bombing could trigger a major event, he warned. There are "not enough breaks in the system" to stop an escalating situation, he said.

The United Nations Security Council last week issued a new series of sanctions against Iran for not complying with council demands for it to cease its program of enriching uranium. Enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear reactors that produce electric power, but it can also be used in a more refined form to produce a nuclear weapon. Iran insists that it has never had a program to produce nuclear arms, and only wants to use its nuclear program for the country's energy needs. The United States, on the other hand, has insisted that Iran plans to use its technology to produce a nuclear bomb, and has threatened military action, if necessary, in order to prevent its development.

But Ritter noted that there was no evidence indicating that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. Iran has stated publicly that it is against Islamic teaching to carry out such a program, or to use such weapons.

A recent National Intelligence Estimate revealed that Iran no longer had a nuclear weapons program, but said that it had stopped a program that was active until 2003. Ritter warned that the public should not accept the NIE statement that Iran in fact had at one time a program, the evidence for which was supposedly found on an Iranian laptop computer that made its way into American hands.

Iran, he said, asserts that it "has no nuclear program and never has pursued one." The Iranian government contends that information found on the laptop was fabricated.

Another speaker, author Fatemeh Keshavarz, who teaches at Washington University in St. Louis, suggested that information on the computer in question related only to a debate over whether or not Iran should have such a program. Keshavarz also noted that the new list of sanctions approved unanimously by the Security Council contains provisions for searching Iranian ships for contraband, a move that she noted could precipitate a military confrontation with the United States.

She noted that while the new resolution was "sold to us as a replacement of military action," it could actually bring Iran and the United States one step closer to armed conflict.

Ritter warned against complacency by the American people while policymakers continue to move toward military action against Iran. He said that U.S. citizens "accept at face value almost anything put forward" by the government, without challenge. "We live in troubled times, ladies and gentleman," he said.

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