(Updates with Iranian military commander’s comments starting in fifth paragraph, McCain in final two.)
Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Iran pledged to press on with its efforts to develop atomic energy as the United Nations nuclear watchdog started a second day of meetings in Tehran to clarify aspects of the country’s activities.
Iran has mastered the full nuclear-fuel cycle and the International Atomic Energy Agency supervises its work, Ramin Mehmanparast, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in Tehran today. Iran is exercising its “right to peaceful nuclear energy,” he said in comments aired live by the state-run Press TV news channel. “There is nothing to negotiate.”
A team of IAEA officials arrived in Tehran yesterday for two days of meetings that provide an opportunity to defuse allegations of a possible military aspect to the country’s nuclear program. The delegation is in Iran for talks, not inspections, Mehmanparast said.
The conflict over Iran’s nuclear work has driven oil prices higher. Israel and the U.S. have refused to rule out military action against Iranian nuclear sites to prevent the country from acquiring a weapon. As a signatory to the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, Iran says it has the right to enrich uranium on its soil and maintains it wants atomic power to produce electricity for its growing population.
Iran would consider taking pre-emptive action in response to threats, an Iranian military commander said today, according to the state-run Fars news agency.
“We will no more wait to see enemy action against us,” Fars cited Mohammad Hejazi, deputy head of the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces for Logistic and Industrial Research, as saying in an interview.
Iran’s new strategy is to “make use of all our means to protect our national interests and hit a retaliatory blow at them whenever we feel that enemies want to endanger our national interests,” Hejazi said, according to Fars.
The enrichment program is at the heart of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear capabilities because, while enriched uranium can be used as fuel, at higher concentrations it can form the core of a bomb.
“We hope to have some concrete results after this trip,” the IAEA’s top inspector, Herman Nackaerts, said on Feb. 19 at Vienna Airport. “The highest priority remains, of course, the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program, and we want to tackle all outstanding issues.”
While the IAEA says Iran hasn’t used its declared uranium stockpile to make weapons, it said in a November report it had “credible” intelligence showing that Iran worked on components needed for a nuclear weapon until 2010. Robert Kelley, a U.S. nuclear-weapons scientist and former IAEA inspector, wrote on Jan. 11 that some of the evidence may be forged, backing a claim by Iran.
The Vienna-based agency has sought access to Iran’s Parchin military base and Lavisan physics center as well as to centrifuge workshops and uranium mines. All of Iran’s declared nuclear material is under IAEA seal, monitored by cameras and subject to regular inspection.
The agency said in the November report that Iran allegedly tested explosives designed for its Shahab-3 missile warhead in Marivan in 2003. Uranium traces could still be found if used in the experiments, according to Kelley and Arms Control Association Director Daryl Kimball.
“Iran should allow the IAEA to go to Marivan and take samples at the site where Iran supposedly did their full-scale high-explosive tests,” said Kelley, who helped debunk forged intelligence before the 2003 Iraq War. “The agency needs to put Marivan first because it is the sleeping dog in the last report.”
The IAEA team last visited Iran in a three-day trip that ended Jan. 31, with Nackaerts saying “intensive discussions” were held with Iranian authorities and further meetings were needed.
Speaking in Jerusalem today, U.S. Senator John McCain said it appears there is “significant tension” between the U.S. and Israel over how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program, and such differences “are not helpful.”
McCain, speaking at a press conference after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel is a sovereign state that can best determine the threats against it.
--With assistance from Jonathan Tirone in Vienna and Calev Ben- David in Jerusalem. Editors: Jennifer M. Freedman, Digby Lidstone.
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