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Iran Says Attack Cannot Stop Uranium Enrichment


Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh
VIENNA -- Iran says a military attack will not stop it from enriching uranium.

In Vienna on November 30, Iranian Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali Asghar Soltanieh told journalists that Iran would rebuild any enrichment centrifuges destroyed in an attack.

"Of course, all centrifuges would be replaced because we have the technology know-how and we can make them ourselves," Soltanieh said. "Therefore, even a military attack cannot stop enrichment in Iran."

He made the comments after a meeting of the IAEA's board of governors.

Soltanieh said Iran had mastered uranium enrichment and would "never, ever give it up."

Earlier, he demanded that the IAEA close its investigation into allegations Tehran has a military dimension to its nuclear program, saying that Tehran had already answered all concerns about its nuclear activities.

Soltanieh said the agency had found no "smoking gun" and that the IAEA's continued interest in investigations was driven solely by Western governments, particularly the United States.

The ambassador's remarks could dampen hopes that the IAEA and Iran can agree on December 13 when they meet in Tehran to discuss IAEA demands that Iran be more forthcoming about its nuclear program.

A Western diplomat attending the IAEA meeting spoke with RFE/RL on condition of anonymity about Soltanieh's demands regarding the agency's investigation. He said it was "very clear the Iranians are not serious" about negotiations, and he was "very pessimistic about the upcoming talks in Tehran."

Impossible Demand

Soltanieh said on November 29 that Iran was prepared to reach an agreement in Tehran next month if the IAEA met a central Iranian demand.

Soltanieh said Iran wanted the IAEA to reveal the intelligence evidence behind inspectors' questions regarding a possible military dimension to its nuclear program.

"The main difficulty is that the [IAEA] Director-General [Yukiya Amano] has not yet accepted the call of the Nonaligned Movement and Iran, [which they have been making] for 10 years, where they are saying that if a country is [accused], the agency should deliver the documents," Soltanieh said.

"The director-general has not agreed [on] the language in this which the agency will deliver the documents about the allegations against Iran so that Iran will defend itself."

The IAEA has so far refused to show its evidence, much of which is based on confidential information from Western intelligence agencies.

Mark Hibbs, a senior associate of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Bonn-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says it would be problematic for the agency to agree to Iran's demand.

"The IAEA has been given intelligence information from various member states on the basis that the information would not be disclosed in detail to Iran or, for that matter, any other party outside of the [IAEA] secretariat," Hibbs says.

Talks Continue, And Continue

IAEA officials will visit Tehran in mid-December to try to reach agreement on a structured approach for Iran to answer outstanding nuclear questions.

The agency, which reports its findings to the United Nations, will also use the visit to again demand access to Iran's controversial Parchin military complex. The agency believes Iran may be removing evidence of past nuclear work there.

Iran backed away from a tentative deal reached by Amano in Tehran in May to permit expanded international inspections of its nuclear facilities. Since then, the IAEA has expressed continued frustration at a lack of cooperation from Iran.

The two-day board of governors gathering in Vienna comes after the IAEA reported earlier this month that Iran could soon start operating many more uranium-enrichment centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility.

The Fordow site enriches uranium to the 20 percent enrichment level, bringing Iran closer to the higher levels needed to produce weapons-grade material.

However, many experts believe Iran remains years away from building a functional nuclear weapon.