Iran Nuclear NewsINTERVIEW - U.S. steps up questions on Iran nuclear...

INTERVIEW – U.S. steps up questions on Iran nuclear programme

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Reuters: U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte said it was a “major question” whether Iran was running a secret military programme but stopped short of accusing Tehran outright. By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

OXFORD, England (Reuters) – U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte said it was a “major question” whether Iran was running a secret military programme but stopped short of accusing Tehran outright.

His comments came late on Friday as major powers at the United Nations sought to narrow their differences over sanctions against Iran, which Washington believes wants to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy programme.

“We believe that Iran practises denial and deception. So they devote a lot of effort, we believe, to keeping us in the dark about what their real intentions are,” Negroponte told Reuters and the International Herald Tribune in an interview.

“So there’s always more work and effort that is needed to try and understand what they are doing in the nuclear area, like for example, a major question: do they have a secret military programme, or is the only activity that they’ve got the activity that has been declared to the United Nations?

“That’s a very, very important question,” the director of national intelligence added in the interview on the sidelines of a conference run by think-tank Oxford Analytica.

Iran runs a civilian nuclear programme including enrichment of uranium. But it would require a parallel military programme if it were to develop a nuclear warhead — an ambition which it strongly denies.

Asked if Washington believed Iran was indeed running a secret military programme, Negroponte paused before replying: “They certainly have had one in the past, and they certainly in the past practised denial and deception about what they were doing.”

Iran is under threat of U.N. sanctions after ignoring an Aug. 31 deadline to halt enrichment, a process of purifying uranium for use in nuclear reactors. Uranium enriched to a sufficient degree can also be used in a nuclear bomb.

Earlier, senior officials of the United States, France, Russia, China, Britain, Germany and the European Union met at the United Nations in a bid to narrow their differences over sanctions.

Asked if sanctions against oil-producing Iran would backfire by sending the price of crude rocketing, Negroponte said: “I suppose that would depend on what kind of sanctions we agreed on.”

Energy analysts say the price of oil would skyrocket if Iranian oil were removed from the market, particularly if sympathetic countries such as Venezuela also withheld production.

Negroponte did not specify the type of sanctions the United States would seek, but said Washington saw a wide international consensus for action against Iran.

“I would hope and expect that we’d be able to keep that kind of consensus going forward,” he said.

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