In Israel threat, Iran nuke chief warns of ‘harsh’ result if scientists attacked
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If we need to mass produce advanced centrifuges, we're ready

In Israel threat, Iran nuke chief warns of ‘harsh’ result if scientists attacked

Israel is frequently blamed for a string of bombings which targeted a number of Iranian scientists beginning in 2010

Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks in an interview with The Associated Press at the headquarters of Iran's atomic energy agency, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks in an interview with The Associated Press at the headquarters of Iran's atomic energy agency, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Iran’s nuclear chief told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he hopes the atomic deal between Tehran and world powers survives, but warns the program will be in a stronger position than ever if not.

In a veiled threat to Israel, Ali Akbar Salehi also told the AP in an interview in Tehran that the consequences will be “harsh” if there are any new attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear scientists. A string of bombings, blamed on Israel, targeted a number of scientists beginning in 2010 at the height of Western concerns over Iran’s program.

Israel never claimed responsibility for the attacks on the scientists, though Israeli officials have boasted in the past about the reach of the country’s intelligence services. “I hope that they will not commit a similar mistake again because the consequences would be, I think, harsh,” Salehi warned.

Israel earlier this year removed tens of thousands of documents and other materials from Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program archive, stealing them from under the regime’s nose in a Mossad operation in Tehran. The material proved that Iran lied when claiming it was not seeking to build a nuclear weapons arsenal, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, and showed that it intends to resume its nuclear weapons program if it can.

Salehi also said Tuesday that US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the 2015 accord “puts him on the loser’s side” of history.

He added: “That deal could have paved the way for building the trust and the confidence that we had lost.”

Chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, center, attends the annual anti-Israeli Al-Quds, Jerusalem, Day rally in Tehran, Iran, June 8, 2018 (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Salehi’s comments came after Trump decided to pull the US from the deal in May. The 2015 accord, struck under then-president Barack Obama’s administration, saw Iran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

In the wake of Trump’s decision, Western companies from airplane manufacturers to oil firms have pulled out of Iran. Iran’s rial currency, which traded before the decision at 62,000 to $1, now stands at 142,000 to $1.

“I think [Trump] is on the loser’s side because he is pursuing the logic of power,” Salehi said. “He thinks that he can, you know, continue for some time but certainly I do not think he will benefit from this withdrawal, certainly not.”

In his announcement, the US president said the accord would not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear arms and he therefore was exiting the agreement and reimposing sanctions.

Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks in an interview with The Associated Press at the headquarters of Iran’s atomic energy agency, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Trump’s decision was sharply opposed by Iran and the deal’s other signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China. Those countries are currently working to preserve the accord following the US pullout.

Netanyahu was a vocal opponent of the deal as it was being negotiated and when it was reached during the Obama administration. The agreement lifted painful economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

Netanyahu has repeatedly argued that the deal will not prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capability after its restrictions expire in the next decade or so.

Salehi also spoke about Iran’s efforts to build a new facility at Natanz’s uranium enrichment center that will produce more advanced centrifuges. Those devices enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.

For now, the nuclear accord limits Iran to using a limited number of an older model, called IR-1s.

The new facility will allow Iran to build versions called the IR-2M, IR-4 and IR-6. The IR-2M and the IR-4 can enrich uranium five times faster than an IR-1, while the IR-6 can do it 10 times faster, Salehi said. Western experts have suggested these centrifuges produce three to five times more enriched uranium in a year than the IR-1s.

While building the facility doesn’t violate the nuclear deal, mass production of advanced centrifuges would. Salehi, however, said that wasn’t immediately a plan.

“This does not mean that we are going to produce these centrifuges now. This is just a preparation,” he said. “In case Iran decides to start producing in mass production such centrifuges, (we) would be ready for that.”

Salehi suggested that if the nuclear deal fell apart, Iran would react in stages. He suggested one step may be uranium enrichment going to “20 percent because this is our need.” He also suggested Iran could increase its stockpile of enriched uranium. Any withdrawal ultimately would be approved by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

While the UN repeatedly has verified Iran’s compliance with the deal, Trump campaigned on a promise to tear it up. In May, he withdrew the US in part because he said the deal wasn’t permanent and didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program and its influence across the wider Middle East. But Trump meanwhile has tweeted he’d accept talks without preconditions with Tehran.

Asked what he personally would tell Trump if he had the chance, Salehi chuckled and said: “I certainly would tell him he has made the wrong move on Iran.”

“I think (Trump) is on the loser’s side because he is pursuing the logic of power,” Salehi added. “He thinks that he can, you know, continue for some time but certainly I do not think he will benefit from this withdrawal, certainly not.”

In the wake of Trump’s decision, however, Western companies from airplane manufacturers to oil firms have pulled out of Iran. The rial, which traded before the decision at 62,000 to $1, now stands at 142,000 to $1.

Despite that, Salehi said Iran could withstand that economic pressure, as well as restart uranium enrichment with far more sophisticated equipment.

“If we have to go back and withdraw from the nuclear deal, we certainly do not go back to where we were before,” Salehi said. “We will be standing on a much, much higher position.”

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