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Khamenei: If we wanted nukes, nobody, including ‘Zionist clown,’ could stop us

Iran’s leader also warns it may enrich uranium to 60%, as it steps further away from nuclear deal; top US diplomat says DC willing to reenter pact if Tehran in ‘strict compliance’

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with army's air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021 (Official Website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting with army's air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, February 7, 2021 (Official Website of the Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayotallah Ali Khamenei claimed Monday that his country has no interest in a nuclear weapon, but said that if it wanted one, no one — including Israel — could prevent it.

Khamanei also said Iran could increase uranium enrichment to 60 percent, in the latest sign of the Islamic Republic stepping away from the 2015 nuclear deal, as the Biden administration seeks to revive the accord rejected by former US president Donald Trump.

“That international Zionist clown has said they won’t allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons. First of all, if we had any such intention, even those more powerful than him wouldn’t be able to stop us,” Khamenei wrote on his Twitter account, in apparent reference to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, a leading critic of the nuclear deal, has repeatedly vowed Israel is prepared to act militarily to prevent Iran from obtaining an atomic weapon.

Khamenei again insisted Iran has no interest in acquiring nuclear arms, a position he said was “based on Islamic fundamentals and commands that prohibit weapons that are used for killing ordinary people.” He then charged: “The one that massacres 220,000 people with nuclear weapons is the US.”

But at the same time he vowed to “not back down on the nuclear issue” and indicated Iran would further ramp up uranium enrichment.

An Iranian technician walks through the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, February 3, 2007. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

“Iran’s enrichment limit will not be 20%, and we will act to the point that is needed and the country requires,” he was quoted as saying on his official website, adding that “we may bring enrichment to 60%” for nuclear propellants and other purposes.

Iran is currently enriching uranium to 20%, which is just a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Under the accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, Tehran was limited to enriching uranium to 3.67%.

Khamenei’s remarks came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was prepared to return to the nuclear deal if Tehran shows “strict compliance” with it.

Speaking to the UN-backed Conference on Disarmament, Blinken laid out a US wish list about many issues including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and space-borne threats in the future. He expressed concerns about a Russian anti-satellite weapons test last year and China’s “provocative and dangerous weapons development programs,” in addition to the message about Iran.

Blinken’s comments by video signaled another step by the Biden administration to re-engage with many international institutions and agreements that were shunned, rejected or largely ignored by Trump. It is the first time in years that a top US diplomat has spoken to the disarmament body, which has become mainly a venue for countries to voice concerns about disarmament because it has failed to usher in any accords.

The comments on Iran were perhaps Blinken’s most timely message, coming in the wake of fresh signs that Tehran is moving away from — not toward — compromise with Western governments over the nuclear deal.

Blinken said the United States is prepared to return to the accord “if Iran comes back into strict compliance” with it.

He emphasized that the US remains committed to making sure that Iran “never acquires a nuclear weapon,” adding: “Diplomacy is the best path to achieve that goal.”

Working with allies and partners, he said the US will aim to “lengthen and strengthen” the nuclear deal, which was struck during the Obama administration between Iran and Germany, France, Britain, Russia, China and the US. Trump pulled the US out three years later.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) speaks to staff at the State Department in Washington during US President Joe Biden’s first visit, February 4, 2021. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

On Sunday, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi told reporters after an emergency trip to Tehran that Iran’s government would begin offering “less access” to UN weapons inspectors — involving unspecified changes to the type of activity the agency can carry out.

Grossi said that monitoring would continue in a “satisfactory” manner, pointing to a three-month “technical understanding” to ensure some type of inspections would continue. He stressed that European and US leaders needed to salvage the situation through negotiations.

Khamenei said Monday that Iran must make good on its pledge to end international inspections at its nuclear facilities. Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament months ago passed a law stipulating that if the US does not lift sanctions by this Sunday, Iran will suspend some IAEA inspections from Tuesday.

“God willing, tomorrow another part of this legislation will be implemented. This law, which is good, should be executed precisely,” he tweeted.

According to a report Friday, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors last summer found uranium particles at two Iranian nuclear sites that Iran tried to block access to.

Iranian authorities had stonewalled the inspectors from reaching the sites for seven months before the inspection, and Iranian officials have failed to explain the presence of the uranium, the Reuters news agency reported, citing diplomats familiar with the UN agency’s work.

The inspections took place in August and September of 2020, the report said. The IAEA keeps its findings secret and only shared the details of the find with a few countries.

The Wall Street Journal reported the suspicious findings earlier this month, without identifying the material.

The Reuters report did not identify the sites. Earlier reports said one of the sites was in Abadeh, south of Isfahan — a location that in September 2019 was flagged by Netanyahu as the site of an alleged secret nuclear facility. Iran denies that it seeks nuclear weapons; Netanyahu is adamant that the regime is fooling the world, and has said that a trove of nuclear documents concerning its rogue program, smuggled out of Tehran by the Mossad two years, proves Iran’s duplicity.

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