Iran says it can enrich uranium but does not have technology to make nuclear weapons
PETER JAMES SPIELMANN, Associated Press Writer - 09-24-03
Iran is able to mine and enrich its own uranium and can develop its atomic energy program independent on its own, but it does not have the technology to develop nuclear weapons, Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday.
Kamal Kharrazi also said Tehran will "hopefully not" withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as North Korea did. Last week, a leading hardline Iranian cleric said Tehran should withdraw from the nuclear arms control treaty.
"No, we do not have the technology to make a nuclear weapon," Kharrazi told a conference on Eurasian security and economic development held in conjunction with the U.N. General Assembly.
"We have the technology to enrich uranium. There is a difference between having the technology to enrich uranium needed for a power plant as fuel, and the technology to make a bomb.
The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, based in Vienna, Austria, has given Tehran until Oct. 31 to prove its atomic energy program is peaceful. Failure to do so means the issue could be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible enforcement action.
Kharrazi accused the IAEA board of buckling to political pressure from the United States.
The IAEA said traces of enriched uranium that its inspectors found at Kalay-e-Electric Co. in west Tehran, which raised Western suspicions of a weapons program, needed more investigation to determine their origin.
Kharrazi said that before the IAEA reached a final conclusion, Washington rammed through the IAEA board a demand for Iran to prove it had no weapons.
President Bush declared in his 2002 State of the Union speech that Iran was part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
With the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq toppled by U.S.-led military forces and North Korea a pariah state after it declared that it had a nuclear weapons program, Iran is worried that it might be the next country to face U.S. action.
U.S. analysts believe Iran is years away from a nuclear weapon, even with significant foreign assistance.
Kharrazi said Iran had developed high-speed ballistic centrifuges on its own to separate and enrich uranium from its own mines, and denied the technology was imported from Russia.
He said Tehran and Moscow will soon sign an agreement to return to Russia enriched uranium provided to develop the Iranian atomic program. But he added that Iran will be able to enrich its own uranium.
Kharrazi acknowledged that the capability to produce nuclear weapons would be a source of pride for Iran, but insisted that "Iran is pursuing enrichment technology for peaceful use."
On Tuesday, Iran's representative to the IAEA said Tehran remains willing to negotiate for IAEA inspectors to enjoy unfettered access to its energy plants but, in the meantime, it will scale back its cooperation with the U.N. watchdog.
"We have decided to fulfill our obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and not beyond that," Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's representative to the IAEA, told The Associated Press.
This would limit IAEA inspections to Iran's declared nuclear facilities.
In August, Iran allowed inspectors to visit the Kalay-e-Electric Co. after they were turned away two months before when they came to take environmental samples. Iran allegedly tested centrifuges, which are used to process uranium, at the site.
Kharrazi reaffirmed Wednesday that Iran is ready to negotiate with the IAEA the additional protocol allowing complete access to all nuclear sites. But he said the Bush administration would not accept any amount of proof that Iran's atomic program was peaceful.
When asked whether Iran might withdraw entirely from the treaty, as North Korea did before declaring its weapons program, Kharrazi replied only: "Hopefully not."
"We especially agree that the whole region should be free from nuclear weapons," he said. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/archive/2003/09/24/national2318EDT0888.DTL