In the months since Iran promised negotiators from three European nations (EU-3) that it would temporarily halt all of its illicit nuclear programs in return for possible economic incentives, Tehran has made clear that it views the suspension as little more than a short-lived pause in its quest for nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly stated that it intends to resume efforts to enrich uranium, a key step in assembling atomic bombs, and has advanced its nuclear programs despite agreeing to the suspension. Iran's efforts to develop nuclear arms and the missiles to deliver them pose grave risks to U.S. interests in the Middle East.
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 hid its quest for nuclear weapons from the international community for nearly 20 years, clandestinely building facilities to enrich uranium and importing centrifuges for that purpose on the black market.
Iran promised the EU-3 in November that it would temporarily halt all nuclear work but has since said that it intends to resume atomic activities by the end of 2005.
Iran pledged a temporary suspension of its nuclear programs to negotiators from Britain, France, and Germany (the EU-3), who, in turn, opened negotiations on trade and technological incentives to Iran.
Hassan Rowhani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said the suspension "will not be very long and will be valid for the duration of the EU-3 negotiations and only on the condition that the negotiations make progress."
Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister, Gholamali Khoshroo, said Iran would "never" give in to international pressure to give up its nuclear programs.
Iran's nuclear work has continued despite its pledged suspension of all atomic activities.
Iran used the time between signing the agreement with the EU-3 and the date it took effect to convert a reported 22 tons of uranium yellowcake into the gas needed to fuel enrichment, a clear violation of the spirit of the deal.
According to international officials, Iran is performing maintenance work on centrifuges, machines that should have been shut down under Tehran's agreement with the EU-3.
Nuclear experts have predicted that Iran's nuclear program is now 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 last year.
Meir Dagan, the head of Israel's Mossad intelligence service, told the Knesset in January that Iran would have everything it needs to produce nuclear arms indigenously by the end of 2005.
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 now 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 Israel, parts of Europe and American troops and allies in the Middle East from deep inside Iranian territory.