Iranian president - Report proves Iran free of nuclear bombs

Thursday, November 13, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran -- Shrugging off a U.N. nuclear report's criticism of his country, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami asserted Wednesday that the report dispelled suspicions Tehran was seeking atomic arms.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report said it found no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. But the agency also suggested it could not rule out such ambitions until it sifted through new information only recently made available by the Iranians after nearly two decades of cover-ups.

The document, released Monday, listed numerous cases of covert nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment and the production of a small amount of plutonium that effectively put Iran in violation of part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But it also praised Iran for its recent "active cooperation and openness" -- language that may sway the IAEA board of directors in Iran's favor. The United States had been lobbying for the board, which meets on Nov. 20 in Vienna, to formally declare Iran in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty -- a move that could lead to sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council.

Referring to IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, Khatami said after a Cabinet meeting that "the most positive point in Mr. ElBaradei's report is that it has been announced there is nothing to suggest that the Islamic Republic of Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons."

"This proves our claim and removes the possibility for some powers to misuse the situation against us," Khatami said, apparently staking out what would be Iran's argument at the IAEA board meeting next week.

Khatami acknowledged Iran had shortcomings, but he denied these constituted a violation of the treaty.

"Naturally, over 20 years of nuclear activity, some failures did occur. We do not deny this. But it does not mean we violated or transgressed the regulations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to which we are committed," Khatami said.

Despite the revelations of plutonium production and other previously unpublished covert activities, Khatami suggested the United States and its allies would have little to seize upon in attempts to press the board to declare Iran in breach of the Nonproliferation Treaty.

"Whatever ElBaradei said about Iran's failures, it belongs to the past," the president told reporters. "He (ElBaradei) had already said those things in his previous report. ... There was no need for him to elaborate on that.

"For us, (the failures) are trumped-up statements without a strong legal and technical justification."

Khatami said he was optimistic about the way the IAEA board would judge the report.

"We will wait for the Nov. 20 meeting of the IAEA, and I'm sure that if they treat us on the basis of legal and technical criteria, there will be no problem."

In London on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain and the United States had "some differences of emphasis" on Iran's nuclear record.

"We should be reacting calmly to the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency," Straw told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. He added that while Iran had concealed nuclear activities in the past, the country had recently cooperated substantially.

Straw and the foreign ministers of France and Germany visited Tehran last month and secured Iran's agreement to suspend uranium enrichment and grant unrestricted access to IAEA inspectors.

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