VIENNA — Iran’s nuclear chief said Monday that “terrorists and saboteurs” might have infiltrated the International Atomic Energy Agency in an effort to derail his nation’s atomic program. He also said his country’s nuclear facilities could now survive enemy attack.
In an unprecedentedly harsh attack on the integrity of the UN organization and its probe of allegations that Tehran is striving to make nuclear arms, Fereydoun Abbasi spoke of a recent explosion at a particularly sensitive Iranian enrichment facility.
“Terrorists and saboteurs might have intruded the agency and might be making decisions covertly,” Abbasi said, in a speech to an IAEA conference in Vienna. Citing what he said was an example of sabotage last month at an underground enrichment plant, he said IAEA inspectors arrived to inspect it shortly after power lines were blown up.
Abbasi said that the explosion had caused the power supply to the Fordo facility to stop. “Does this visit (by IAEA inspectors) have any connection to that detonation?” he asked.
Abbasi’s comments were the first mention of the alleged sabotage attack. He did not elaborate on the damage caused. Iran has repeatedly accused the US and Israel of trying to sabotage its nuclear program, by killing scientists, sending viruses into its computer systems and other actions.
The enrichment facility at Fordo, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) south of Tehran, is of particular concern to Israel because it is buried deep into a mountainside to protect it from attack.
Abbasi also attacked Israel’s nuclear program in his comments to the IAEA’s 155-nation general conference, saying that “the Zionist regime’s nuclear weapons constitute a threat to international peace and security.”
He denied that the Islamic Republic was seeking to develop a nuclear bomb, saying that “to liberate Palestine from the hands of the Zionist occupiers, there is no need to use nuclear weapons. The solution is democracy and holding a referendum among the original inhabitants of Palestine.”
Iran has often warned that any Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities would trigger a devastating response, and on Monday Abbasi suggested that even such a strike would not succeed in slowing down his country’s nuclear program. He said without elaboration that experts have “devised certain ways through which nuclear facilities remain intact under missile attacks and raids.”
Abbasi rebuked the United States at the meeting, reflecting Iran’s determination to continue defying international pressure aimed at curbing its nuclear program and nudging it toward cooperation with the IAEA inspection.
The unyielding speech underlined concerns raised by Israeli leaders who say that both diplomatic efforts and economic penalties have failed to move Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been urging the US administration to set “red lines” that, if crossed by Iran, would trigger US-led military action.
In the past week, Netanyahu has urged President Barack Obama and other world leaders to state clearly at what point Iran would face a military attack. But Obama and his top aides, who repeatedly say all options remain on the table, have pointed to shared US-Israeli intelligence that suggests Iran hasn’t decided yet whether to build a bomb despite pursuing the technology. They argue that, were Iran to begin speeding toward a bomb, there would still be time for action beyond toughened sanctions already in place.
Speaking at a press conference in Berlin on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Tehran “poses a threat not just to Israel but to the whole world.”
Despite her strong criticism of Iran, she also said political solutions “have not been exhausted” when it comes to negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear advances, and urged the international community to continue down the avenue of diplomacy and dialogue.
Tehran denies seeking nuclear arms, and Abbasi, an Iranian vice president whom the agency suspects may have been involved in nuclear weapons research, again insisted on Monday that his country’s nuclear program is aimed only at making reactor fuel and doing medical research.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran … has always opposed and will always denounce the manufacture and use of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Tehran has long dismissed suspicions that it may re-engineer its uranium enrichment program from making reactor fuel to produce nuclear warheads and says accusations that it has worked secretly on nuclear arms are based on fabricated US and Israeli intelligence. It also frequently accuses the IAEA of anti-Iran bias in its push to ensure that all of Tehran’s nuclear activities are peaceful. But Abbasi’s comments Monday were the harshest attack to date on the agency itself.
Abbasi said that anti-Iran elements are helped by the agency, even when it reports what it sees “truthfully and with absolute honesty,” because “this information is easily accessible to saboteurs and terrorists through IAEA reports.”
However, Iran now can “ward off threats by targeting … cyber-attacks, industrial sabotage and use of explosives,” he said, without elaborating.
Abbasi said US pressure on Iran is the equivalent of an attack on all developing nations’ nuclear rights. He called US-led sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and financial transactions “the ugly face of colonization and modern slavery.”
“A state which has used nuclear weapons is not eligible to be present at the Board of Governors,” he said, questioning the right of the United States to sit on the 35-nation IAEA board that makes agency policy.
Meanwhile, statements critical of Iran on Monday were voiced in more traditional terms similar to that heard at previous IAEA meetings.
US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu accused Tehran of continuing “a decade-long pattern of evasion regarding questions over the nature of its nuclear program, including those related to possible military dimensions of its nuclear activities.”
A European Union statement warned of “deep concerns about possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program.
IAEA head Yukiya Amano said Monday that the independent body would hold further talks with nuclear talks with Iran “despite the lack of progress so far,” in an effort to clarify its concerns about the regime’s illicit atomic program.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili met with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu Sunday, and he was to meet EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton on Tuesday as the IAEA talks continue.