FACTBOX: Key risks in the Middle East in 2010

Fri Dec 18, 2009 6:23am EST
 
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By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Iran's nuclear dispute with the West and planned U.S. troop cuts in Iraq will weigh heavily on the Middle East in 2010, as will Dubai's debt woes, instability in Yemen and deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

IRAN NUCLEAR AMBITIONS

Iran, beset by political turmoil since a disputed June election, seems likely to miss the West's end-year deadline for it to accept an enriched uranium fuel deal aimed at calming international fears about the purpose of its nuclear program.

That would set the stage for the United States and its European allies to press for harsher United Nations sanctions against Tehran, although Russia and China, which both wield veto power on the U.N. Security Council, may continue to demur.

Iran says it will defy tougher sanctions, but U.S. President Barack Obama, keen to avoid a new war while his military is still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, may see them as the best way to head off any Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

An Israeli strike, while more likely to delay than destroy Iran's nuclear potential, could entangle the United States in a regional conflagration that would threaten global oil supplies.

Things to watch:

-- Western decision on sanctions early next year; if Russia goes along, China might follow suit.   Continued...