PM: Iran election won't stop quest for nukes

Prime Minister says Islamic Republic is "methodically moving forward" with nuclear program, despite outcome of election.

June 6, 2013 01:01
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at cabinet meeting, March 3, 2013

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at cabinet meeting 370. (photo credit: Pool/ Yonatan Zinadel)

The presidential elections in Iran next week will have no impact whatsoever on the country’s continued march toward nuclear weapons, or its arming of Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.

Netanyahu, speaking at a special Knesset session to discuss the Arab League peace initiative, said no one should have any “illusions” about the Iranian elections.

The prime minister also said that the Iranians have over the past six months enriched another 70 kg. of uranium to 20 percent, bringing their total stockpile of uranium enriched to this degree to 180 kg.

Last September at the UN, when Netanyahu unfurled a diagram of a bomb and drew a thick red line, he made clear that Israel would consider an Iranian stockpile of 240 kg. of uranium enriched to 20% as the red line beyond which the Iranians must not be allowed to cross.

“They still have not crossed the red line that I delineated at the UN, but they are systematically getting closer,” he said.

Netanyahu pointed out that all of the problems Israel faces would be “dwarfed” were Iran to get a bomb.

In Vienna, meanwhile, the US said on Wednesday it was “deeply troubled” by Iran’s plans to start a reactor in 2014 that could yield nuclear bomb material while failing to give UN inspectors necessary design information about the plant.

The comments by a US envoy to a board meeting of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency highlighted deepening Western concern about the heavy water reactor that Iran is building near the town of Arak.

Tension over Iran’s nuclear course is rising with talks between Tehran and six powers stalled. Analysts say this type of facility can produce plutonium for weapons if the spent fuel is reprocessed.

Tasked with ensuring that nuclear material is not diverted for military purposes, the IAEA says Iran must urgently give it design data about Arak, warning that it would otherwise restrict its ability to monitor the site effectively.

“We are deeply troubled that Iran claims that the IR- 40 heavy water reactor at Arak could be commissioned as soon as early 2014, but still refuses to provide the requisite design information for the reactor,” Joseph Macmanus, the US ambassador to the IAEA, told the 35- nation board of governors.

He cited IAEA rules that a member state must inform the Vienna-based UN agency about a nuclear plant and give design details, as soon as it has decided to build one. Iran says it must do so only before loading nuclear fuel into the reactor.

“Iran’s refusal to fulfill this basic obligation must necessarily cause one to ask whether Iran is again pursuing covert nuclear activities,” Macmanus said, according to a copy of his speech to the closed-door gathering.

Western worries about Iran are focused largely on uranium enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow, as such material refined to a high level can provide the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

But diplomats and experts say Arak could offer Iran a second route to nuclear bombs, if it decided to build them.

The Arak reactor “creates what is sometimes referred to as a plutonium path to potential weapons-grade material for a nuclear device,” Macmanus told reporters outside the board meeting.

Experts say Arak could produce enough plutonium for one bomb per year, but Iran would first have to build a facility to chemically separate the material from the spent fuel.

The 27-nation European Union said Iran’s expansion of sensitive nuclear activities, including its Arak plans, and lack of transparency toward the IAEA “further aggravate the international community’s existing concerns.”

To signal big power unity on Iran, China and Russia joined four Western powers in pressing Iran at the IAEA meeting to cooperate with a stalled investigation by the UN nuclear agency into suspected atomic weapons research by Tehran.

In a joint statement, the six powers said they were “deeply concerned.”

But, like previous such diplomatic initiatives, it looked unlikely to have any immediate impact in softening Iran’s defiance in the face of increasing international pressure to make it curb activity with both civilian and military uses.

“We are deeply concerned that Iran continues to undertake certain nuclear activities contrary to UN Security Council and IAEA board resolutions,” the powers said in the text read out by Germany’s ambassador at a meeting.

The IAEA has held 10 rounds of negotiations with Iran since early 2012 in a sofar fruitless effort to get it to address indications of what the Vienna-based UN agency calls the “possible military dimensions” to its nuclear program.

The IAEA board was meeting in Vienna at a time of apparent deadlock in a broader diplomatic push by the six powers known as the P5+1 – the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain – to find a peaceful solution to the dispute.

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