Iran took the US, Israel and the UN Security Council to task on Wednesday, accusing Washington and Jerusalem of threatening military attacks on its nuclear facilities and saying Security Council pressure on Teheran was illegal.
Washington in turn criticized Teheran for ignoring Security Council demands to freeze uranium enrichment and said Iranian "intransigence" in answering questions about its nuclear program raises the level of concern that it might be seeking to make nuclear arms.
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The exchange, inside a 35-nation board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, came as part of a review of a report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei confirming that Iran had defied a Security Council deadline last month and continued expanding its enrichment program.
On Thursday, the gathering was also to decide on partly or fully suspending 23 technical aid programs for Iran. Diplomats accredited to the meeting said approval of the suspensions was virtually certain.
Any such move would be in line with existing Security Council sanctions and would come amid discussions among the five permanent Council members on possible new sanctions against Iran. Council diplomats in New York said these could include a travel ban, an expanded list of people and companies subject to an asset freeze, an arms embargo and trade restrictions, but cautioned that differences remained.
In criticizing the US and Israel, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief IAEA delegate, accused them of "continuing to make threats against Iran's ... (nuclear) facilities." But he suggested that his country's nuclear program would survive any aggression, citing ElBaradei in declaring that nuclear "knowledge can not be bombed."
While not directly threatening attacks, both Israel and the US have not ruled out any option in stopping what they say is Iran's weapons program.
Soltanieh denied such aims, saying: "Weapons of mass destruction have no place in the Islamic Republic of Iran's defense doctrine." Iran steadfastly insists it is not interested in nuclear arms and wants to enrich not to create the fissile core of warheads but to generate energy.
Outside the meeting, he attributed international pressure on Iran to give up enrichment to "the poisonous food served up by a few (IAEA) members and sent to New York," to the Security Council.
He again rejected any possibility that Iran would freeze enrichment, declaring: "Iran is (a) master of ... enrichment."
"I know that Americans do not want the world to know that reality, (but) they have to swallow this reality."
Reflecting the US stance, chief delegate Gregory L. Schulte accused Iran of ignoring "the serious international concerns expressed by the Security Council" in demanding a freeze of enrichment.
Schulte also criticized Iran for continuing to build facilities that will produce plutonium, another possible pathway to nuclear arms, and thus again ignoring a Security Council demand. He cited ElBaradei in saying that his agency cannot conclude that Iran's program is peaceful unless Teheran stops stonewalling on questions posed by his agency. And he urged Teheran to revers a ban on 38 IAEA inspectors, all from countries that back Security Council action against the Islamic republic.
A European Union statement touched on essentially the same points.
Outside the meeting, German chief delegate Peter Gottwald, whose country holds the EU presidency, said Iran's refusal to heed the Security Council demand on suspending enrichment constituted "unacceptable behavior".