The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to publish its long-awaited report on Iran this week, with leaks published by The Washington Post suggesting that its conclusions will prove damning for Tehran.
Not only is the report expected to detail the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons programme, but highlight that Iran could be “nuclear ready” within months.
Officially, Iran suspended its nuclear programme in 2003 after international diplomatic pressure, however Western governments have long-suspected that the process of assembling the equipment necessary to build a nuclear weapon continued covertly.
"The programme never really stopped," David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, told The Washington Post.
"After 2003, money was made available for research in areas that sure look like nuclear weapons work but were hidden within civilian institutions," he said.
Hawks within the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are keen to highlight Iran’s nuclear ambitions as justification for a pre-emptive strike.
Even Israeli President Shimon Peres, usually one of the more dovish politicians, recently said that military action is "closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic action".
Pressure will also fall on the US administration to act before the programme produces a working warhead. Only this week, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with ABC that the military option with Iran should "remain on the table." President Obama is believed to have discussed the report and its implications with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the recent G20 summit in Cannes, France.
However, any military move by Israel or the US to remove the facilities could prove disastrous. Not only could it spark conflict in the region, but the Iranian regime has threatened to close the Straits of Hormuz, a global strategic choke point through which nearly half the world’s oil supplies flow, if attacked.
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister reacted with indifference to the growing pressure. “Let them publish and see what happens,” he told the Mehr News Agency On Saturday, adding that the "fabrication" of Iran's nuclear ambition was “100 per cent political” and a product of "foreign powers”.
On Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered a more belligerent tone, saying the US feared Iran's growing military capability.
"Iran is increasing in capability and advancement and therefore we are able to compete with Israel and the West and especially the United States," he said.
A pre-emptive strike could also further exacerbate the rift between the west and China who, along with Russia, have lobbied vehemently against any military strike against Iran.
Russia has even told the IAEA not to publish the report as it may "hinder the start of serious negotiations".
Yet the prospect of United Nation sanctions being used against Iran look remote, particularly as Russia and China would likely veto any such moves.
The reports, which will be officially published on Wednesday, is expected to highlight the following:
- Iran is currently in the advances stages of building an explosive device small enough to fit into a warhead.
- Iran has built facilities capable of testing a nuclear device. The existence of the facility, a steel container located at a military facility near Tehran, has been verified by satellite.
- Iran's 20% enriched uranium programme is being moved to a new facility near Qom. New centrifuges at the facility would be able to turn the 20% enriched uranium into 90% enriched Uranium (weapons grade) within months.
- The know-how to build a nuclear weapon was provided by a clutch of foreign scientists. The Washington Post has named one as Vyacheslav Danilenko, a former Soviet weapons scientist allegedly contracted to the Iranian programme during the Nineties. "Crucial technology linked to experts in Pakistan and North Korea also helped propel Iran to the threshold of nuclear capability," reports The Washington Post.