Iran says new chapter is open; dismisses speculation on nuclear weapons

 

Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency reiterated Thursday that his country “is ready to re-engage with IAEA,” amid growing pressure from world powers over its controversial nuclear program.

“A new chapter (has) opened,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh told reporters at the IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna.

But he said his country “will never ever suspend our nuclear activities,” insisting that the program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

“The truth is, Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon.”

Soltanieh said international sanctions and cyber attacks against Iran will not prevent it from developing nuclear energy, and that sanctions were only working to hurt its citizens.

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The continued Israeli threat of attack against Iran’s nuclear installations, he noted, is against international law, and called on the United Nations to condemn and take action against Israel.

“We are facing a barbaric phenomenon,” Soltanieh said, referring to the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists, which Iran blames on Israel.

On Wednesday, two Western diplomats told CNN that satellite images show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at Iran’s Parchin military base. The description buttresses IAEA concerns that the Iranians were trying to clean up the facility to cover signs of nuclear activity. But the sources say that while the imagery does show clean-up activity, it’s not clear what might be being cleaned up.

Soltanieh told reporters that suspicions surrounding Parchin were “childish” and “ridiculous.”

Earlier Thursday, six world powers called on Iran to resume nuclear talks without preconditions, voicing their support for “a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.”

“We reaffirm that our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution,” Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, France, Russia, Great Britain and the United States — said in a statement.

The group said it aimed to restore “international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program consistent” with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The proposed talks come after Iran signaled a willingness to let U.N. inspectors visit a military base that some suspect is involved in the development of nuclear weapons, a move that could possibly ratchet down rising tensions between Iran, Israel and the West.

Israel, the United States and other countries have long said they suspect Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, and international inspectors have voiced concern about the possibility. Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

In their statement, the world powers expressed regret about uranium enrichment activities at the Fordow and Natanz facilities. Iran confirmed this year that it began the enrichment of uranium at its underground Fordow facility, and reports emerged last month that new advanced centrifuges were being used at Natanz.

The nations — collectively known as the P5 plus 1 — noted that the IAEA “held two rounds of talks in Tehran in January and February 2012, and during these rounds an intensive discussion was held on a structured approach to the clarification of all outstanding issues.”

“We are concerned that, despite efforts made so far, no agreement was reached, including on the access to relevant sites in Iran, requested by the Agency. In that context, we urge Iran to fulfill its undertaking to grant access” to the Parchin military base, the group said.

The IAEA suspects that research on triggers for nuclear weapons is being carried out at the site. In a recent report, the agency said experiments with a nuclear detonation system had been conducted inside a large metal container at Parchin. IAEA inspectors visited Parchin twice in 2005, but inspectors did not enter the building that housed the test chamber.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said the satellite images do not suffice for the IAEA inspectors to draw any conclusions. “They would have to have additional information,” he told CNN in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Most evidence of Iranian involvement in developing and testing components for nuclear weapons dates back to 2002 and 2003, Albright said. “Some may have continued afterward, but the evidence for work after 2003 is weaker.”

Still, he added, “it’s enough to warrant a visit to check it out. … Iran should allow the IAEA to go there.”

Regarding possible work on triggers, Albright said finding evidence of them would be difficult.

“Our feeling is that this doesn’t in any way warrant military strikes,” he said. “It just warrants pressuring Iran to let the IAEA in, let them do their job and cooperate more, and we can all avoid a war. So it shouldn’t be seen as evidence of a nuclear weapons program.”

The talks come as pressure grows on Tehran to show that it has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons.

The P5 plus 1 countries are seeking assurances about the nature of Iran’s program “while respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said in a letter this week.

Ashton was responding to an overture made last month by Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and it came at the same time Iran said it would grant U.N. inspectors access to Parchin.

Iran offered Tuesday to let international nuclear inspectors in, but only after details are worked out, its team at the IAEA said. IAEA inspectors had asked to visit the facility during a February trip to Iran but were rebuffed, the agency and Iran have both said.

Iran’s offer to open up Parchin to inspection came on the heels of a meeting in Washington between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during which the two leaders vowed to stand together in their efforts to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Iran’s parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, warned that the renewed talks would fail if the West pressures Iran.

At an economic summit in Iran, Larijani accused the West of applying a double standard: pressuring Iran but saying nothing about Israel’s nuclear capabilities, according to a report Wednesday by state-run official news agency IRNA.

Israel, believed to be the only country in the region with nuclear weapon capabilities, was measured in its response to news of renewed talks.

Yaakov Amidror, the Israeli national security chief, said Israel welcomed the talks but warned that “we must be ready for the possibility the talks will fail.”

In an interview Wednesday on Kol Yisrael, Amidror said that without a military option to back up the talks, he did not believe the Iranians would be willing to compromise in negotiations.

No date or location for the renewed talks has been announced.

Iran’s economy has been hit hard by U.S. and European oil and financial sanctions over its nuclear activities, while another round of sanctions targeted the crude sales that make up about half of Tehran’s revenue.

Israel has threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear sites should peaceful alternatives be exhausted, with Netanyahu reiterating this week that Israel reserved the right to defend itself from the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Iran, meanwhile, has threatened to cut off the Strait of Hormuz — the only shipping lane out of the oil-rich Persian Gulf — if it is attacked.

As late as Wednesday, the IAEA director general said there were indications that Iran was engaged in the development of nuclear weapons.

“Iran is not telling us everything. That is my impression. We are asking Iran to engage with us proactively, and Iran has a case to answer,” said Yukiya Amano.

He told CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance that Iran has declared a number of nuclear facilities to the IAEA, which has them under its safeguards.

“For these facilities and activities, I can tell that they are in peaceful purpose,” Amano said.By the CNN Wire Staff

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