Sunday, October 09, 2005

Iran dismisses as 'lies' latest U.S. charges on nuclear program

TEHRAN: Iran hit back at U.S. allegations it is working on nuclear warhead designs, dismissing the latest claims as a "lie." "One word: it's a lie. It needs no more explanation," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters. Diplomats and analysts at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the U.S. has briefed key nations on intelligence it says shows Iranian atomic weapons work.

The U.S. allegations center around information purported to show Iranian research on getting a missile warhead to explode at an altitude that would maximize the blast of a nuclear explosion.

Iran says its nuclear program is a strictly peaceful effort to develop atomic power in order to generate electricity and rejects U.S. charges it is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

The briefings ahead of an IAEA board meeting in September were part of campaigning for a resolution that found Iran in noncompliance with international nuclear safeguards and could lead to referring Tehran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

Asefi meanwhile congratulated the UN nuclear watchdog and its head, Mohammad al-Baradei, for winning the Nobel Peace Prize - but nevertheless reiterated Iran's concerns that the agency could buckle to U.S. pressure in its investigation of the Islamic Republic.

"We congratulate Baradei, but we do not want the IAEA to drift from its professional standards or from its duties. We hope Baradei can keep the agency from political games," Asefi said.

"We have had constructive cooperation with the IAEA and will continue. As we have said before our case should have been closed earlier," he said.

Baradei, whose IAEA has been investigating Iran since February 2003, says "the jury is still out" on whether there is a covert atomic weapons program in the country and has criticized the clerical regime here for failing to cooperate adequately.

The IAEA is trying to get access to certain military sites in Iran, including the Parchin facility where high-explosives work is carried out, as well as interviews with key scientists.

Iran's referral to the Security Council would not come before the next IAEA meeting in November, leaving a short window for the country to satisfy agency demands and lobby members of its 35-nation board.

Asefi did not signal any forthcoming concessions, but did say Iran would be sending envoys to China, elsewhere in Asia, the Middle East and South America ahead of the November meeting.

Iran has been engaged in talks for the past two years with Britain, France and Germany, who want "objective guarantees" the clerical regime is not using an atomic energy drive as a means to acquire nuclear weapons.

At the heart of the problem is Iran's fuel cycle work. The so-called EU-3, backed by the United States, want Iran to give up such technology - which can be diverted to military purposes - and are offering incentives in exchange.

The talks broke down in August, when Iran slammed the door on such a deal and partially ended a freeze on fuel-cycle work. Iran says such activities are for peaceful purposes and therefore authorized by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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