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Iran’s nuclear pursuit

Beyond Iraq and the fight against terrorism, serious security and foreign policy challenges face the winner of the 2004 election.'s Kari Huus reports on 5 crises that can't be ignored.

For some foreign policy experts,Iran has supplanted North Korea as the nuclear worry.

In the two years since Tehran’s secretly developed uranium enrichment program was uncovered, Iran has insisted on its right to the program, which it says is for peaceful purposes. Iran resists demands by the International Atomic Energy Agency to halt the program until it can be inspected.

But if it becomes clear Iran is about to acquire a nuclear device, “it’s very likely that it will elicit a military response from the United States or Israel,” says the Michael McFaul, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He notes that Iran is a much larger country than Iraq, with a far more developed military and a highly patriotic populace.

“It would require a major strike… That’s the nightmare scenario.”

Israel was arranging to buy “bunker buster” bombs from the United States that some fear could be used to attack nuclear sites in Iran.

European efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear pursuit by negotiation have not succeeded. And the Bush administration’s hopes that Iran's ruling theocracy would be toppled, bringing a friendlier, more democratic government into power, have not materialized.

“The Islamic Republic appears to be solidly entrenched and the country is not on the brink of revolutionary upheaval,” says a recent report on Iran by the Council on Foreign Relations. “The urgency of the concerns surrounding [Iran’s] policies mandates the United States to deal with the current regime rather than wait for it to fall.”

If either of the presidential candidates have bold new initiatives on Iran, they are unlikely to unveil them until after the election, analysts say. Emotions run deep over the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis, when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took approximately seventy Americans captive, an ordeal that lasted 444 days.