iran nuke plant 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Iran plans to construct two more nuclear power plants despite international concern over its atomic program, a top official said Monday.
Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said he did not expect the plan to affect upcoming nuclear talks with Europe.
"We plan to construct two more nuclear power plants. We will do it through an international tender. It is part of meeting our electricity needs; it is not a secret issue," Larijani told a news conference.
Earlier Monday, state-run television reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Cabinet ministers had decided Sunday night to build a reactor in Khuzestan province in southwestern Iran.
Previously, Iran has said it would build a second power plant at Bushehr, where its first nuclear reactor is due to begin generating electricity in 2006.
It was not clear whether Larijani's comments referred to the Khuzestan and Bushehr plants.
Khuzestan province is the site of an unfinished French-built power plant; construction was halted after 1979 Islamic revolution.
Parliament has asked for the construction of 20 nuclear power plants. Russia, which built the Bushehr reactor, has offered to build more nuclear plants in Iran.
"Any foreign company, public or private, could purchase a share and participate in Iran's nuclear program. This is the ultimate level of transparency in Iran's nuclear program," Larijani said when asked if Americans would be allowed to submit an offer.
Iran is under intense pressure to curb its nuclear program, which the United States and its allies claim is part of an effort to produce weapons. Iran says its program is limited to generating electricity.
Meanwhile, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Muhammad ElBaradei, has appealed to both Iran and the West to refrain from escalating their dangerous game of brinkmanship, which has entered an unpredictable phase after the election of a hardline Iranian president.
In an interview with The Independent, ElBaradei noted that Iran has not rejected the Russian proposal outright, and he said he expected "talks about talks" to be held before next month.
Larijani said Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expects the same rights as Japan, Korea, India and Brazil. He said Iran hopes to reach a result in negotiations with Europe within several months.
No date has been set to resume the talks with Britain, France and Germany, which broke off in August after Teheran restarted uranium conversion, a precursor to enrichment.
"Iran and Europe could have a win-win game in the talks. Having enrichment on our soil in Iran and assuring Europe that there will be no diversion in Iran's nuclear program," Larijani said.
Former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in remarks published Monday that he would support a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear program. Israel has repeatedly identified Iran as its biggest threat and dismissed Teheran's claim that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
"I advise you not to take it so seriously," Larijani said of Netanyahu's comments. "Iran is powerful enough. It is a difficult target. This is not the first time that Israelis make such comments. But it has never been taken seriously here. Those who quickly lose their temper will quickly get calm.
"Comparing Iran and Iraq is wrong. If they make such a mistake, they will add to their own problems. Attacking Iran will have a lot of consequences," said Larijani, who is also secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
On Saturday, Iran approved a bill that would block international inspections of its atomic facilities if it were referred to the Security Council. The step strengthens the government's hand in resisting international pressure to permanently abandon uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for either nuclear reactors or atomic bombs.
The United States and European Union want Iran to permanently halt uranium enrichment. But Teheran says the NPT allows it to pursue a nuclear program for peaceful purposes and that it will never give up the right to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel.
Larijani said the IAEA and others should not focus on intentions but on realities.
"The West should not challenge Iran's nuclear program while the United States says it will take long years for Iran to achieve nuclear weapons," he said. "Iran is patient to solve the case wisely but it does not tolerate time-wasting."
But he warned that if Iran carries out a threat to reopen its mothballed Natanz underground enrichment plant, a dangerous escalation will ensue, and raise fresh questions about Iran's insistence that its nuclear intentions are peaceful. "If they start enriching this is a major issue and a serious concern for the international community," he said.
Although IAEA officials have said it would take at least two years for Natanz to become fully operational, ElBaradei believes that once the facility is up and running, the Iranians could be "a few months" away from a nuclear weapon. "That's why there is the concern of the international community about Iran," he said, "because lots of people feel it could be a dual purpose program."
Did he believe the Iranians were building a nuclear weapon?
"The jury's out," he said. "It's difficult to read their intention. We're still going through the programme to make sure it's all for peaceful purposes.
"I know they are trying to acquire the full fuel cycle. I know that acquiring the full fuel cycle means that a country is months away from nuclear weapons, and that applies to Iran and everybody else."
ElBaradei said he could see no victors from an escalation. "Everybody would hurt," he said, referring to all parties in the dispute. "You would then open a Pandora's box. There would be efforts to isolate Iran; Iran would retaliate; and at the end of the day you have to go back to the negotiating table to find the solution."
Despite the developments in Iran and North Korea, ElBaradei said the most worrying nuclear threat came from the prospect of nuclear terrorism. "The deterrence concept does not apply in the case of terrorists. That is the most critical danger we are facing now because there is a lot of nuclear material and nuclear facilities that need to be adequately protected."
He was talking about the possibility of a "dirty bomb" which could spread radiation and create widespread panic, or the theft of a nuclear weapon. Although he said that such a scenario was "highly unlikely," the countries where the risk was greatest, he said without the slightest hint of irony, were those such as Iraq and Afghanistan where governments are not in control of their territory.