Iran’s Khamenei says West’s calls to limit missiles ‘stupid’

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that Western expectations for the Islamic Republic to limit its missile program were “stupid and idiotic,” Reuters reports. The Supreme Leader also called on the country’s Revolutionary Guards to mass-produce missiles. The United States and its allies have said they are worried about Iran’s missile program as they fear the weapons could carry nuclear warheads. Iran has long denied having any plans to develop atomic weapons.

“They expect us to limit our missile program while they constantly threaten Iran with military action. So this is a stupid, idiotic expectation,” Khamenei was quoted as telling the IRNA news agency while on a visit to an aeronautics fair by the Revolutionary Guards.

“The revolutionary guards should definitely carry out their program and not be satisfied with the present level. They should mass produce. This is a main duty of all military officials,” Khamenei said.

IAEA seeks detonator clarification from Iran ahead of May 15 deadline

International Atomic Energy Agency plans talks with Iran on Monday ahead of a May 15 deadline for the country to implement a series of measures that could allay concern about its nuclear program that the West fears may have military goals.

Iran says it has already implemented the seven steps agreed by the two sides – including access to two uranium sites – however, IAEA reportedly still wants more information about the so-called Explosive Bridge Wire detonators.

They can help set off a nuclear device and Tehran is believed to have developed them.

How Iran responds to questions about its development and need of this type of equipment is seen as an important test of its willingness to cooperate fully with an IAEA investigation into suspected atomic bomb research by the country.

Iran says allegations of such work are baseless, but has offered to help clear up the suspicions with the UN agency.

The diplomatic sources said Iran in late April provided an explanation about the detonators, which it says are for non-nuclear uses, and that the IAEA had asked follow-up questions.

They said the IAEA also wants to agree with Iran new measures to be taken after May 15, hoping these will tackle other sensitive issues linked to what the agency calls the possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program.

IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in an email on Sunday that the meeting would take place in Vienna but gave no detail, Reuters reports.

“IAEA and Iranian officials will meet … for further discussions within the Framework for Cooperation,” she said, referring to a transparency pact reached in November on a step-by-step process to shed more light on Iran’s atomic activity.

Iran says “inspectors satisfied”

A senior Iranian nuclear official gave an upbeat assessment of the country’s cooperation with the IAEA so far.

“Our initial impression is that the inspectors were satisfied with what they saw and the information they received,” Behruz Kamalvandi told Fars News Agency, after IAEA officials last week toured the Saghand uranium mine and a linked site.

Iran and the IAEA will meet a day before the Islamic Republic and six world powers on Tuesday start, also in the Austrian capital, a new round of negotiations on a broad diplomatic settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute.

The two sets of negotiations are separate but closely linked as both focus on fears that Iran may be covertly seeking the capability to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful energy project only.

Western diplomats say Iran must start engaging with the IAEA’s investigation and that this is central to the success of the powers’ talks with Tehran aimed at a comprehensive deal by late July.

Iran wants an end to sanctions that are severely hurting its oil-dependent economy. After years of a worsening standoff with the West, the election last year of pragmatist Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s president opened the way for a thaw.

The mere fact that Iran agreed to help clarify the detonator issue was seen as a breakthrough as the IAEA has tried for years, mostly in vain, to investigate allegations that Iran may have worked on designing a nuclear warhead.

It was, however, one of the least difficult issues that were detailed in an IAEA report in late 2011 that provided a trove of intelligence information pointing to past activities in Iran relevant to nuclear weapon development. Diplomats and experts say Iran must still do much more to address those issues.

President Rouhani offers transparency in talks on Iranian nuclear issue

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday his country has nothing to offer except transparency in nuclear talks with world powers, rebuffing hard-liners as negotiators seek a final deal over the Islamic Republic’s contested program. The talks, resuming Tuesday, face an informal July deadline to hammer out a final deal to limit Iran’s ability to build nuclear arms in exchange for ending the crippling economic sanctions it faces.

While the moderate Rouhani and Iran’s negotiators have the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hard-liners increasingly criticize the deal as giving up too much while gaining too little from the West.

Speaking Sunday to a group of Iranian medical and nuclear experts, Rouhani appeared to be trying to counter the hard-liners by saying Iran would never accept “scientific and nuclear apartheid” by giving up its program.

“If the world seeks good relations with Iran, it should choose the way of surrendering to Iran’s rights, respecting the Iranian nation and praising Iranian scientists,” Rouhani said in the speech, which was aired live by state television.

“Iran’s path to achieve nuclear technology has been a correct way and it will never stop,” he said. “We do not want to withdraw one step in technology.”

Rouhani also stressed Iran has not sought nuclear weapons and urged the West not to accuse Iran of doing so.

“The Iranian nation has never been after weapons of mass destruction since it does not see it as legitimate,” he said.

The West says Iran’s nuclear program could allow it to build atomic weapons. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes, like medical research and power generation.

Iran reached a historic interim deal in November with six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. In it, Tehran agreed to stop enrichment of uranium to 20 percent – which is a possible pathway to nuclear arms – in exchange for the easing of some Western sanctions. It agreed to dilute half of its 20 percent enriched uranium into 5 percent and turn the remaining half into oxide, which is very difficult to be used for bomb-making materials.

It also allowed international inspectors into nuclear sites. In the last week, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog, visited a uranium mine and a uranium-thickening facility in the central Iranian towns of Ardakan and Yazd. Iranian officials said that fulfilled a series of demands it had for Iran, including releasing information about its efforts to develop a type of explosive detonator that can be used in nuclear weapons.

The talks beginning Tuesday hope to iron out a comprehensive deal placing long-term caps on Iran’s enrichment program and other atomic activities in exchange for full sanctions relief. The two sides hope to reach agreement by July 20 but can extend negotiations if both agree to do so. Already, Iran has said it will redesign its Arak heavy water reactor to greatly limit the amount of plutonium it can make, a major concession.

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