AP: Iran’s president said Monday that his country supports calls for making the Middle East a nuclear arms-free zone, but he also urged the United States and Russia to give up all their atomic weapons as a threat to the region’s stability. Associated Press
By DIANA ELIAS
Associated Press Writer
KUWAIT CITY (AP) – Iran’s president said Monday that his country supports calls for making the Middle East a nuclear arms-free zone, but he also urged the United States and Russia to give up all their atomic weapons as a threat to the region’s stability.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not mention an agreement in principle reached Sunday by Iran and Russia to move Iran’s uranium enrichment work to Russian soil, which would allow closer international monitoring of Tehran’s suspect nuclear program.
Although the details still must be negotiated, the deal was seen as a potential breakthrough in Kremlin efforts to ease international pressures on Iran over its nuclear program, but it was not clear the Tehran regime is willing to give up all enrichment work.
The Iranians insist their program has only the peaceful purpose of developing technology for generating electricity, disputing suspicions in the United States and other Western countries that the project is a cover for work to develop atomic weapons.
In Tokyo on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told his Japanese counterpart, Taro Aso, that Iran has the right to pursue research and will not abandon its nuclear program, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.
“What we are doing is research at the laboratory level and it is impossible for us to stop it and that’s Iran’s right,” Mottaki was quoted as saying. It was not clear if he was referring specifically to uranium enrichment, which can produce material for nuclear bombs.
The White House expressed some doubt that the Russian-Iranian deal will meet the concerns of the United States and other countries about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, citing indications from Iranian officials that Tehran intends to continue uranium enrichment on its home soil.
Washington is supporting the Kremlin’s effort, as long as the final deal results in all enrichment activities take place outside Iran and all spent fuel is returned to Russia.
“We’ll have to see what the details of any agreement are,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “Given their history, you can understand why we remain skeptical.”
Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, accused Iran of using the talks with Russia to try to divide the international community.
“Iran does not really have a new strategy” to defuse the crisis, Steinmeier told reporters after he was briefed on the Russian-Iran negotiations. “They still want to drive a wedge into the international community, but this will not succeed.”
Ahmadinejad discussed nuclear arms during a brief stop in Kuwait, the first visit by an Iranian leader since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, for talks with the new emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah. Kuwait is concerned about the possibility of a nuclear accident in nearby Iran.
In a session with journalists, Ahmadinejad was asked about calls from the United States, Kuwait and other Arab states for the Middle East to be kept free of nuclear arms.
He said Iran also desired that, but added his government wanted to see the whole world free of nuclear weapons.
“We believe that these weapons, possessed by the superpowers and the occupiers in our area, are a threat to stability,” Ahmadinejad said.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Iran to give up all uranium enrichment on Iranian territory.
He also stressed that Sunday’s agreement was only a preliminary one and said talks between Russia and Iran would continue up until the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency meets March 6 in Vienna, Austria, to discuss Tehran’s program.
“We are convinced that among the other components of efforts (by the world community) should be a moratorium on enriching uranium inside Iran until specialists from the International Atomic Energy Agency have clarified everything,” Lavrov told reporters.
Diplomats in Vienna said the 35-nation board would receive a report Monday on Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts and other nuclear work. The confidential report will play a significant role in determining the international community’s next steps in trying to wrest compromises from Iran meant to reduce suspicions that it may be seeking to make nuclear weapons.
The board voted early this month to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, but the council is waiting for the report and the outcome of the board meeting before considering any action, such as imposing economic and political sanctions.
The delay was insisted on by two of the council’s veto-wielding members, Russia and China, both of which have strong economic and political ties to Tehran.
Japan also has economic links with Iran, particularly for oil imports, and is keen to play a role in resolving the standoff. Aso, the foreign minister, urged his visiting Iranian counterpart Monday to respond “wisely and positively” to Russia’s overture, his ministry said.
Aso also stressed that Iran needs to realize other countries have strong suspicions about the Iranian nuclear program, much of which was kept secret from U.N. inspectors for years.
“Iran has lost the trust of the international community, and I hope to urge Mr. Mottaki to gain a better understanding of the international situation,” Aso told Parliament.
International worries about Iran’s intentions have been intensified by Ahmadinejad’s belligerent talk about Israel, including his comment that the Jewish state should be wiped “off the map.”
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Monday denounced Iran’s negotiations with Russia as a bid to buy time to develop nuclear arms, but said Israel was willing to let diplomacy run its course for now.
He added, however, that Israeli leaders could not stand by indefinitely waiting for Iran’s program to be reined in and said Israel will take all necessary steps to defend itself from a possible Iranian nuclear attack.
“As for the possibility of an Israeli attack (on Iran), I think it is not at all right to address this question publicly, but it can be said that Israel has the right and the obligation to do all that is necessary to defend itself,” Mofaz told a group of high school students.
Israeli warplanes destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in a 1981 strike using conventional munitions.