Iran FM: Netanyahu has made ‘wrong’ claims on nuclear program since 1992

After PM reveals ‘secret atomic warehouse’ in Tehran, Zarif claims Israeli leader using it as ‘smokescreen’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks on CBS's 'Face the Nation' on September 30, 2018. (Screen capture: CBS News)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks on CBS's 'Face the Nation' on September 30, 2018. (Screen capture: CBS News)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allegations of a new “secret atomic warehouse” near Tehran, branding it the latest “nonsense” claim regarding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in a string of “wrong” claims dating back to 1992.

“He’s just trying to find a smokescreen,” Zarif told CBS’s “Face the Nation” in an excerpt from an interview released Saturday night.

“He’s been making allegations about Iran since 1992,” said a smiling Zarif. “In 1992, according to him, we were supposed to have finished making a bomb in about five years. In 1996 still five years. So he’s been on the record — even testifying before Congress — that Iran is just about to make a nuclear weapon.”

Zarif rejected all of Netanyahu’s claims.

“The previous allegations that Netanyahu made have been investigated by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and have been rejected,” Zarif said. “He’s been wrong about the previous [allegations] and he’s wrong about this one… They are nonsense.”

Furthermore, Zarif said, if Netanyahu wanted to ensure that Tehran could not produce a nuclear weapon, he should have supported the deal clinched between the major world powers and Iran in 2015, which he had instead tried to torpedo. The United States in May withdrew from the accord.

“If he’s concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, the best way to make sure, is the deal that he has done his best to undermine, because JCPOA, the nuclear deal, allows the IAEA the most intrusive inspections that are available in the world,” Zarif said. “And Iran accepted those intrusive inspections because we did not have anything to hide.”

Zarif also accused Netanyahu of hypocrisy in his threat against Iran in late August, issued outside the Dimona nuclear facility in southern Israel.

“You remember a few weeks ago, he stood beside Dimona, which is the bomb making factory of Israel, and threatened Iran with annihilation,” he said. “And now he says that the Iranians threatened them with annihilation. This is absurd.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a ceremony renaming the nuclear reactor in Dimona to the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center after the late Israeli statesman, on August 29, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The full CBS interview is to be broadcast on Sunday night.

Zarif’s comments reiterated his dismissive tweets on Thursday.

“No arts & craft show will ever obfuscate that Israel is only regime in our region with a *secret* and *undeclared* nuclear weapons program — including an *actual atomic arsenal*,” Zarif said. “Time for Israel to fess up and open its illegal nuclear weapons program to international inspectors.”

Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal but has never publicly acknowledged it.

Zarif further called Netanyahu’s accusation an “obscene charge,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported Friday, and branded the Israeli prime minister a “liar who would not stop lying.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a placard showing a suspected Iranian atomic site while delivering a speech during the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018 in New York City. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP)

Netanyahu in his speech last week revealed what he said was a previously unknown Iranian nuclear site, saying it could contain up to 300 tons of nuclear material, and accused the International Atomic Energy Agency of failing to investigate findings that he presented earlier this year about Iran’s nuclear program.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly (full text), Netanyahu also revealed what he said were Hezbollah precision missile sites hidden in Beirut, warned that Israel would act against Iran “whenever and wherever.”

The prime minister said the IAEA, the UN’s nuclear agency, had failed to take any action after he revealed in April a nuclear archive that Israeli spies managed to spirit out of Iran, and so he was now disclosing what he said was a “secret atomic warehouse” in the Turquzabad district of Tehran, a few miles from the archive.

Netanyahu claimed the warehouse was used for “storing massive amounts of equipment and material from Iran’s secret weapons program,” which was quickly being moved to other parts of the city.

He claimed some 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of radioactive material had been recently removed from this atomic warehouse and squirreled away around Tehran, endangering the capital’s residents. The site may contain as much as 300 tons of nuclear-related equipment and material in 15 shipping containers, he added.

He did not specify what nuclear material was contained at the site.

Israel had provided details of the warehouse to the IAEA and to the US administration six weeks ago, but Netanyahu charged that the IAEA failed to act. It was decided after security consultations at the Prime Minister’s Office that Netanyahu would publicize the information at the UN, in the hope of galvanizing the IAEA into action.

The US on Friday asked the IAEA to investigate Netanyahu’s new allegations, although Reuters also quoted a US official as saying the prime minister’s information was misleading, and that the site contained documentation and not nuclear materials.

An Israeli official rejected this on Friday, saying, “It’s not just documents. There are other things there,” and added: “Did he check it? First of all, let them check.” He noted that it seemed “very important for Iran to hide it, to disperse things across Tehran.”

Michael Bachner and agencies contributed to this report.

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