NYT: American and European officials said Friday that a mission by international nuclear inspectors to Tehran this week had failed to address their key concerns, indicating that Iran’s leaders believe they can resist pressure to open up the nation’s nuclear program.
The New York Times
By ROBERT F. WORTH and DAVID E. SANGER
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — American and European officials said Friday that a mission by international nuclear inspectors to Tehran this week had failed to address their key concerns, indicating that Iran’s leaders believe they can resist pressure to open up the nation’s nuclear program.
The assessment came as Iran’s supreme leader lashed out at the United States, vowing to retaliate against oil sanctions and threats of military action and warning that any attack “would be 10 times worse for the interests of the United States” than it would be for Iran.
While the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who returned to Vienna after a three-day mission in Tehran, said nothing substantive about their trip and were planning to return to Iran later this month, diplomats briefed on the trip said that Iranian officials had not answered the questions raised in an incriminating report issued by the agency in November.
That report cited documents and evidence of experiments with detonators that strongly suggested Iran might have worked on technologies to turn its nuclear fuel into working weapons and warheads. Tehran has insisted its uranium enrichment activities are peaceful and has dismissed the evidence suggesting otherwise as fabricated or taken out of context, and has refused to engage in substantive discussions or inspections.
Members of the I.A.E.A. delegation were told that they could not have access to Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, an academic who is widely believed to be in charge of important elements of the suspected weaponization program, and that they could not visit a military site where the agency’s report suggested key experiments on weapons technology might have been carried out.
“The agency expressed interest in all the areas of concern,” said a diplomat based in Vienna, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The team asked for access in the future to different types of sites and personnel, and that was denied.”
One senior American official described the session between the agency and Iranian nuclear officials as “foot-dragging at best and a disaster at worst.” But a diplomat at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna said “disaster is too strong a word.” He added: “Iran has refused to address the issue for three years now. To be fair, you have to give them credit for at least discussing it. The dialogue is continuing, and that’s a good sign.”
In Tehran, the speech by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made during Friday Prayer and broadcast live to the nation, came amid deepening American concern about a possible military strike on Iran’s nuclear enrichment sites by Israel, whose leaders delivered blunt new warnings on Thursday about what they called the need to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to its existence.
Israeli leaders have issued mixed signals regarding their intentions, suggesting that they are willing, for a short time at least, to wait and see if increasingly strict sanctions, including a European oil embargo, will force Iran to give in to inspectors’ demands, and to cease the production of at least some of the uranium that outside experts fear could be turned into bomb fuel.
The ayatollah also issued an unusually blunt warning that Iran would support militant groups opposing Israel, an action that some analysts said could be held up by Israel as a casus belli.
Reinforcing the concern, ABC News reported on Friday that Israeli consular officials were warning of possible attacks on Israeli government sites abroad and synagogues and Jewish schools. ABC quoted an internal Israeli document as saying, “We predict that the threat on our sites around the world will increase.”
Without being specific, Ayatollah Khamenei said that Iran “had its own tools” to respond to threats of war and would use them “if necessary,” the Mehr news agency reported.
Ayatollah Khamenei referred to the sanctions as “painful and crippling,” according to Iranian news agencies, acknowledging the effect of recent measures aimed at cutting off Iran’s Central Bank from the international financial system. But he also said the sanctions would ultimately benefit his country. “They will make us more self-reliant,” he said, according to a translation by Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency.
In recent weeks, senior American and European officials have visited Israel to counsel patience, warning that a military attack could backfire and strengthen what they called Iran’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons.
Two senior Israeli officials, including the head of the Mossad, the intelligence agency believed to be responsible for the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, visited Washington over the past week, for what officials described as sometimes contentious meetings. Israeli officials say they are worried that Iran may soon be immune to the threat of airstrikes as its enrichment facilities are moved into deep mountain bunkers.
Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said at a conference in Israel on Thursday that if sanctions failed to stop Iran’s nuclear program, Israel would need to “consider taking action,” according to the newspaper Haaretz.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday, echoed the sentiment.
“My view is that right now the most important thing is to keep the international community unified in keeping that pressure on, to try to convince Iran that they shouldn’t develop a nuclear weapon, that they should join the international family of nations and that they should operate by the rules that we all operate by,” he said. “But I have to tell you, if they don’t, we have all options on the table, and we’ll be prepared to respond if we have to.”
In Washington, there was evidence on Friday that a new Senate bill for tougher sanctions, which could effectively sever Iranian banks from a global financial telecommunications network, was having an effect, even before a full Senate vote.
The network, known as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, would face unspecified penalties under the legislation if it failed to sever sanctioned Iranian banks. Swift, based in Belgium, said in a statement on Friday that it “fully understands and appreciates the gravity of the situation,” and was working with banking regulators “to find the right multilateral legal framework which will enable Swift to address the issues.”
Expulsion from Swift could be catastrophic for Iran’s economy by blocking a major conduit for foreign revenue.
Robert F. Worth reported from Dubai, and David E. Sanger from Washington. Reporting was contributed by William J. Broad, J. David Goodman and Rick Gladstone from New York, and Elisabeth Bumiller from Ramstein Air Base, Germany.