(photo credit: Stringer Iran / Reuters)
VIENNA - Iran's nuclear envoy said on Friday it would be a "strategic
mistake" to build atom bombs, dismissing what a leading Western expert
cited as evidence suggesting Tehran was seeking the means to do just
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Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also insisted during a public
debate that sanctions and the Stuxnet computer virus had failed to slow
the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear program.
"Please be assured that none of the sanctions have affected our nuclear activities ... 100 percent sure," he said.
Asked about Stuxnet, which Iran has blamed on enemies waging a "cyber war" against it, he said: "No destruction, no problem."
analysts say increasingly tough sanctions on Iran as well as Stuxnet
and possible other sabotage have delayed Iran's nuclear progress, even
though they say the country now has enough low-enriched uranium for two
bombs if refined more.
Enriched uranium can be used to fuel power plants, Iran's stated aim, or provide bomb material if processed much further.
Soltanieh said that developing nuclear bombs would put Iran at a
disadvantage in any talks with the United States and other nuclear-armed
states, which would have many more such weapons.
"Because the United States (would say): 'Wait a minute, you only have 2-3 weapons, I have thousands, I'm very powerful'."
Soltanieh added: "We don't want to make this strategic mistake. Without
nuclear weapons we are as strong and powerful as the nuclear weapons
Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow for non-proliferation at the
International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, said "the
totality of the evidence indicates beyond reasonable doubt" that Iran
was seeking a capability to make such weapons.
If Iran decided to "weaponize" enrichment, it would need about 16 months
to yield the first bomb's worth of highly enriched uranium at its
Natanz enrichment facility, if all centrifuge machines were used for
this purpose, he told the seminar.
At least six months would then be required to fashion the highly-refined
uranium into a weapon, Fitzpatrick added. Developing a missile to
deliver it would add to the timeline, the former senior US State
Department official said.
An IAEA report this week said it had received new information about
possible illicit military dimensions to Iran's nuclear activities
"The latest IAEA report includes evidence that what originally were
thought to be just paper studies also include actual experiments,
including on triggers for a nuclear weapon," Fitzpatrick said.