At a meeting next month, the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have its sixth chance in two years to act against Iran's illicit nuclear program by referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council, where sanctions could be applied to help stop Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran has refused to cooperate fully with inspectors and has rejected calls by the IAEA to stop enriching uranium, a key step in assembling nuclear weapons. Iran's secret efforts to achieve nuclear weapons and development of missiles capable of delivering atomic warheads pose a grave danger to the United States and its allies in the region.
Iran has operated an illicit nuclear program for two decades in violation of signed international agreements foreswearing the pursuit of atomic weapons.
Iran has sought technology for a complete nuclear fuel cycle that would give it the indigenous capability to produce weapons-grade nuclear material.
Iran has clandestinely built facilities to produce enriched uranium, a key component in nuclear weapons, and has imported advanced P-2 centrifuges for this purpose on the global black market.
Iran is building a heavy-water production plant at Arak capable of producing large quantities of plutonium as a byproduct. Plutonium, like enriched uranium, can be used as the core of an atomic bomb.
The IAEA has discovered that Iran has secretly imported 1.8 tons of hexafluoride gas, which fuels the enrichment process, from China in 1991 but cannot account for all of it.
Despite Iran's reporting that it had not enriched uranium to more than 1.2%, the IAEA has found traces of uranium in Iran enriched to 36%, more than seven times what is needed for peaceful nuclear energy production.
Nuclear experts have predicted that Iran's nuclear program is less than a year away from the "point of no return."
"We are facing Iran acquiring, if not already acquired [sic], a capability to produce the material that can be used for nuclear weapons should they decide to do that," IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told CNN in September.
Nuclear experts and senior U.S. and Israeli officials believe that Iran's nuclear program may be less than a year away from having achieved the capability of producing atomic weapons without any outside assistance.
Iran has reacted to increasing pressure by the IAEA with defiance and threats.
"We will continue along our path even if it leads to an end to international supervision," Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said on Sept. 21.
Iranian negotiator Hassan Rohani said Iran would not accept outside limits on its uranium enrichment programs and that "no international body can force Iran to do so."
At a public rally in Tehran following the IAEA's September meeting, Iran paraded missiles draped with banners reading "We Will Crush America Under our Feet," and "Wipe Israel Off the Map."
Iran continues to develop missiles able to carry atomic weapons and strike U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Iran has continued to carry out tests of its Shihab-3 ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.
The Shihab-3's range has been increased to 1,200 miles, making it possible for Iran to strike anywhere in Israel, parts of Europe and American troops and allies in the Middle East from deep inside Iranian territory.