MI6 Chief John Sawyers, in a rare public speech, spoke before a meeting of senior civil servants in London and said that British agents had foiled Iran's attempts to produce a nuclear weapon as long as four years ago, according to the report.
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"You'd have Iran as a nuclear weapons state in 2008 rather than still being two years away in 2012," the report quoted Sawyers as saying.
“The Iranians are determinedly going down a path to master all aspects of nuclear weapons; all the technologies they need," he said. "It's equally clear that Israel and the United States would face huge dangers if Iran were to become a nuclear weapon state."
He added that in such a case a military strike would become increasingly likely.
"I think it will be very tough for any prime minister of Israel or president of the United States to accept a nuclear-armed Iran," he suggested.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Natanz (Photo: EPA)
The US unleashed a fresh wave of sanctions against Iran on Thursday, ratcheting up pressure to convince Tehran to take seriously concerns about its suspected nuclear program.
The actions impose additional sanctions on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation networks and identify Iranian "front" companies and banks to assist in compliance, the Treasury Department said.
"The Treasury and State Department actions target more than 50 entities tied to Iran's procurement, petroleum, and shipping networks," the Treasury said.
Iran has been subject to severe international economic sanctions over its controversial nuclear program, which Western powers believe masks an atomic weapons drive despite repeated denials by Tehran.
Earlier this week, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that Iran's pursuit of nuclear capabilities may trigger a "new Cold War."
The Daily Telegraph quoted Hague as saying that "Iran was threatening to spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, which could be more dangerous than the original East-West Cold War – as there are not the same 'safety mechanisms' in place.
"It is a crisis coming down the tracks," Hague said. "Because they are clearly continuing their nuclear weapons program… If they obtain nuclear weapons capability, then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons.
“And so, the most serious round of nuclear proliferation since nuclear weapons were invented would have begun with all the destabilizing effects in the Middle East… And the threat of a new cold war in the Middle East without necessarily all the safety mechanisms – that would be a disaster in world affairs."
News agencies contributed to this report
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