(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadeh said Wednesday that nuclear weapons have no place in Iran's defense doctrine, and accused "certain" states of double standards and hypocrisy - a clear allusion to Tehran's Western critics.
He zeroed in on France, a pivotal player in tightening sanctions on Iran, accusing it of having assisted Israel in developing nuclear weapons decades ago. The Jewish state is widely reputed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.
France, a big exporter of civilian nuclear technology, built in the 1950s an Israeli reactor in the southern desert town of Dimona, a complex widely believed to have produced atomic bombs.
"While certain countries such as France express concerns over peaceful nuclear activities of Iran ... they have spared no effort in helping Israel ... to develop inhumane nuclear weapons," Akhondzadeh said.
"Indeed, France is the founder of Israel's clandestine nuclear weapons program," he told a meeting convened in Vienna to discuss the state of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a voluntary 1970 pact.
Israel, one of only three states outside the NPT, neither confirms nor denies it has nuclear weapons under a policy of ambiguity designed to deter regional Arab and Iranian adversaries but minimize the risk of arms races.
"The existence of nuclear weapons in the hands of ... Israel continues to pose the gravest threat to the stability and security" in the Middle East, Akhondzadeh said.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Iran said it would seek an end to sanctions over its nuclear activities at talks with big powers later this month.
An adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the negotiations in Baghdad on May 23 should lead to the lifting of punitive measures on Tehran, Iranian media reported.
The comments reflect a hardening public line in the Islamic Republic that an end to sanctions is vital to the success of the talks. It was also the first time an influential political figure explicitly said he expects progress on the issue.
"At the least, our expectation is the lifting of sanctions," Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel was quoted by Iranian media as saying.