Iran Rejects Fresh US Claim on Atomic Weapons Work
The Financial Times:
Iran on Sunday dismissed fresh U.S. allegations about its atomic ambitions as a bid to blight a crucial meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog later this month. U.S. officials said new evidence suggested Iran had made significant progress in what they call its secret pursuit of nuclear weapons, and that this strengthened the case for more international pressure on Tehran to end the programme. READ MORE
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi rejected the allegations as an attempt to ratchet up pressure on Tehran.
“It is another fuss ahead of the IAEA board meeting to poison the board’s atmosphere,” he told a news conference.
The International Atomic Energy Agency board meets on Nov. 24 to decide whether to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions after failing to convince world powers that its atomic ambitions are entirely peaceful.
The New York Times reported on Saturday that senior American intelligence officials informed the IAEA in mid-July about the contents of what they said was a stolen Iranian laptop computer.
One U.S. official said the data was not definitive, but ”strongly suggestive that Iran had made significant advancement toward weaponisation”.
Sources close to the IAEA confirmed that CIA officials had made a presentation at the agency’s Vienna headquarters in July, but said the evidence was not clear-cut.
“There was a meeting in July where we were shown information - basically design work on a missile cone, that is, the space where the warhead would go,” one source said.
“The information did not seem conclusive, the ‘smoking gun’.
No one has augmented this data since, and we are in no position to know whether the data indeed came from the Iranians.”
Iran, which kept a uranium enrichment programme secret for 18 years until 2003, denies Western accusations that it is trying to build nuclear weapons under cover of an atomic power programme and says it only wants to generate electricity.
“The baseless claim made us laugh. We do not use laptops to keep our classified documents,” Asefi said.
He reiterated that Iran intended to enrich uranium on its territory, implicitly rejecting what diplomats say is a Russian proposal to defuse the nuclear standoff with Tehran.
The diplomats said Moscow’s plan enjoys tentative backing from the European Union and the United States. It would let Iran convert uranium, but enrichment would be carried out in Russia.
An EU diplomat has said the United States and the EU will push for Iran to be sent to the Security Council at the Nov. 24 IAEA meeting if it snubs the putative Russian proposal.
The New York Times, quoting European and U.S. participants at the July meeting, said the U.S. intelligence officials had shown IAEA officials data from more than 1,000 pages of Iranian computer simulations and accounts of experiments.
The U.S. officials, the paper said, argued that the data showed a long effort to design a nuclear warhead and constituted ”the strongest evidence yet that, despite Iran’s insistence that its nuclear programme is peaceful, the country is trying to develop a compact warhead to fit atop its Shahab missile, which can reach Israel and other countries in the Middle East”.
But The New York Times said that apart from Britain, France and Germany, which have joined Washington in demanding that Iran halt suspicious nuclear activities, other nations are sceptical.
Nuclear experts say doubts over U.S. intelligence on Iran have been fuelled by the fact that Washington’s claims about Iraqi unconventional weapons capabilities proved largely false.
Shahin Gobadi, a Paris-based spokesman for the Iranian opposition group which first disclosed Tehran’s secret programme in 2002, said it was not the source of the stolen laptop.
But he said his group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, also had evidence Iran is working on nuclear warheads at the Hemmat complex northeast of Tehran and at Parchin, a military site 30 km (20 miles) southeast of Tehran.
By reverse-engineering a cruise missile obtained from Ukraine, Iran has “mastered the technology to produce (nuclear-capable) cruise missiles and is making great progress toward this end,” said Gobadi, whose group is on Washington’s list of terrorist organisations.