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Khamenei rejects ‘nonsense’ accusation Iran seeking atomic bomb

Supreme leader insists nuclear research is for peaceful purposes to produce energy; senior Iranian negotiator at Vienna talks says parties are ‘closer than ever’

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a televised video conference with an audience in the city of Tabriz commemorating the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, on February 17, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a televised video conference with an audience in the city of Tabriz commemorating the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, on February 17, 2022. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader vowed on Thursday that his country would ramp up the development of its civilian nuclear program, as major world powers continued delicate talks in Vienna to revive Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal.

In a televised speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stressed the importance of nuclear energy for Iran, while again asserting that it had no interest in nuclear weapons, saying any claim otherwise was “nonsense.”

Khamenei’s remarks seemed clearly aimed at the countries involved in the Vienna talks.

“Enemies are making cruel moves against our nuclear energy issue, (putting) sanctions on nuclear energy that they know is peaceful,” he said. “They do not want Iran to achieve this great and significant progress.”

The accord, which former US president Donald Trump abandoned nearly four years ago, granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its atomic program. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, tweeted late Wednesday that the parties were “closer than ever” to an agreement.

But talks have repeatedly stalled in recent months as Iranian negotiators press hardline demands, exasperating Western diplomats.

Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani arrives at the Coburg Palace, venue of the talks aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal, in Vienna, on February 8, 2022. (Alex Halada/AFP)

Khamenei, who so far has largely stayed silent on the ongoing negotiations, called claims that Iran was pursuing a bomb “nonsense,” saying they were meant to deprive Iran of its legitimate right to nuclear power.

“If we do not pursue (peaceful nuclear energy) today, tomorrow will be late,” he said.

Iran long has insisted its nuclear program is peaceful. But the country’s steps away from its obligations under the 2015 accord have alarmed Israel and world powers.

Tehran has since started publicly enriching uranium up to 60% purity — a short technical step from the 90% needed to make an atomic bomb, and spinning far more advanced centrifuges than those permitted under the deal.

The Natanz uranium enrichment facility buildings are pictured some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, on March 30, 2005. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Last year the head of the UN’ International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran’s enrichment of uranium had reached levels that only countries seeking to make atomic weapons acquire.

A US assessment earlier this month found that Iran is just “weeks” away from bomb breakout technology.

Iran is negotiating in Vienna with the remaining parties to the JCPOA — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. The US is participating indirectly through mediators.

Israel has repeatedly declared it will not allow Iran to become a nuclear-armed state and that, if necessary, it will strike Iranian nuclear facilities, regardless of the outcome of the Vienna talks to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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