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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

And we'll begin this hour with the report on the growing pressure on Iran over the issue of nuclear weapons. Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have made comments in recent days that could be construed as threatening to attack Iran. There's also talk that Israel may be planning an airstrike. And with all that, there is ever more confusion within Iran.

Here's NPR's Mike Shuster.

MIKE SHUSTER: Perhaps, the most startling statement came from President Bush during a news conference last week.

GEORGE W: We got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

SHUSTER: Then, on Sunday, Vice President Cheney made a speech before an audience of Middle East experts in which he characterized Iran as the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism, as responsible for the death of American soldiers in Iraq, all the while pursuing technology used to develop nuclear weapons.

RICHARD CHENEY: The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

SHUSTER: At the same time, pressure on Iran is also coming from Israel. It is now generally believed that Israel's September 6th middle-of-the-night airstrike on a target in Syria - perhaps a nuclear reactor in the early stages of construction - was intended, in part, to send a strong signal to Iran. That's the way many in the Bush administration are taking it. Among some in the administration, there is a belief that it's only a matter of time before Israel mounts an air attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has been unusually active in the diplomatic arena in recent days, making a quick trip to Moscow last week just after Russia's President Vladimir Putin had been in Tehran. And yesterday in London, Olmert endorsed the use of economic sanctions against Iran, but with a hint of impatience.

EHUD OLMERT: Economic sanctions are effective. They have an important impact already. But they are not sufficient, so there should be more. Up to where? Up until Iran will stop its nuclear program.

SHUSTER: In Iran, there is confusion right now about what course the government is pursuing in its nuclear diplomacy. Just a few days ago, Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator who has been seen as a pragmatist, was dismissed. Larijani was replaced by Saeed Jalili. Jalili, who has no expertise in the nuclear field, is believed to be close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The dismissal of Larijani provoked a strong reaction in Iran's parliament. As many as 180 members of parliament, including many conservatives, signed a letter that publicly expressed concern about the course of Iran's international negotiations.

Larijani accompanied Jalili to Rome yesterday for more talks with the European Union. Jalili tried to put the best face on the confusion in Tehran.

SAEED JALILI: (Foreign language spoken)

SHUSTER: The nuclear issue is one of the issues where there is national consensus, Jalili told reporters. God-willing, he added, this approach will continue.

But there are significantly different views on this in Tehran and indeed considerable concern about the possibility of an American or Israeli attack. Some high-ranking figures who do not support President Ahmadinejad have been trying to make contact with the Bush administration.

These more moderate voices have made it known that they would like to engage in a dialogue with the U.S. But according to Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, there is little willingness inside the Bush administration to hear them.

KARIM SADJADPOUR: Most people in Washington, especially this current Bush administration, believe that the moderates in Tehran are essentially irrelevant right now, that it's the hardliners who are in charge.

SHUSTER: Earlier this year, the Bush administration held two rounds of talks with Iranian officials in Baghdad on the security situation in Iraq. It is uncertain now whether even these talks will continue.

Mike Shuster, NPR News.

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