Military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities would be "a path to disaster rather than a solution", former United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix has warned.
Dr Blix - who led the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the 2003 war - told the New Statesman magazine, in its edition tomorrow, it was not "evident" that Tehran was seeking a military nuclear capability.
He warned that there was no imminent threat from Iran that would justify pre-emptive action, which he said would be counter to the UN charter.
Dr Blix's comments came as former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell told the same magazine that military action on Iran would have the result of "setting fire to the Middle East".
The Lib Dem manifesto for the 2010 election explicitly committed the party to opposing military action in Iran, but Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently raised questions about his stance, saying: "You don't in a situation like this take any options off the table." Concerns over Tehran's intentions were heightened today by the news that Iran has begun loading domestically-made nuclear fuel rods into its research reactor in defiance of international sanctions. However, Dr Blix, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said it was not yet clear whether Western states were correct in accusing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of seeking military capability. Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for civil energy use only.
"It is possible - but is denied by Iran and not evident to me - that there is a determination to make a nuclear weapon," said Dr Blix.
He cautioned current IAEA head Yukiya Amano not to jump to conclusions based on unverified claims.
"In my view, the agency should not... draw conclusions from information where the supplier is not ready also to show evidence," said Dr Blix.
"The Agency should not risk its own credibility by relying on data that it cannot verify fully." Dr Blix said that "bombing Iranian nuclear installations may be a path to disaster rather than to a solution" and condemned the "outrageous, gangster-style" killing of a number of Iranian scientists over recent months.
He added "If Iran were to be bombed, it would be another action in disregard of the UN charter.
"There would be no authorisation by the Security Council." "Iran has not attacked anybody and despite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's wild, populist declarations that Israel should be wiped off the map there is no imminent Iranian threat that could be invoked to justify pre-emptive action." Sir Menzies warned: "Military action would have the effect of setting fire to the Middle East.
"Anywhere you go in the United States or any senior policy figure that you speak to certainly believes that. "The anxiety is about the possible actions of Israel. It's a damned close-run thing." Lib Dem MP Sir Bob Russell told the New Statesman that his party had opposed the war against Iraq and it was "vital that we do not get involved with a similar outrage against Iran".
He added: "We should condemn - now, rather than after the event, should it happen - any moves by Israel of a pre-emptive strike against Iran." Dr Blix called for the establishment of a "nuclear weapon-free zone" in the Middle East, covering Israel as well as Iran.
All states in the zone would be required to renounce the development of weapons of mass destruction and the means of their production and agree not to acquire or develop capabilities for the enrichment of uranium or production of plutonium, he concluded.