TEHRAN (FNA)- On the evening of March 19, the promise of a unique seminar drew throngs of students and professors into a packed lecture hall at Prague’s University of Economics to get first-hand information about Iran’s nuclear plans.
Hours before flying home to celebrate the Persian New Year, diplomat and nuclear physicist Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna candidly discussed the details of his country’s nuclear research program.
Criticized by the United States and its Western allies, Iran’s program has become a volatile issue for the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), which has responded to Iran’s consistent refusal to discontinue its uranium enrichment program by imposing several rounds of economic and diplomatic sanctions.
On March 3, the UNSC approved new sanctions, citing the international community’s concerns regarding Iran’s continued expansion of “enrichment-related activities.” Offering “opportunities for political, security and economic benefits” as an incentive for Iran to give up its right of uranium enrichment, these sanctions allow for stricter inspection of ship cargo suspected of carrying prohibited goods, tighter monitoring of financial institutions, and the extension of travel bans and asset freezes.
Adamant that Iran was using the enriched uranium for peaceful energy projects, Soltanieh rebuked the latest regulations. By outlining the program’s diplomatic and technical history from Iran’s perspective, he pledged to “remove ambiguities and questions, so that those ill-minded people cannot â€¦ manipulate and give biased information to the public and then make it into an excuse for an invasion.”
Reminding that the latest UNSC resolution served the economic interests of “certain states” with permanent seats on the Security Council (comprising Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain and the United States), Soltanieh pointed out that Iran’s longtime policy was to cooperate with the IAEA, whose reports contribute to the UNSC’s decision-making.
In the latest report, circulated to the Board of Governors (the IAEA’s policymaking body) Feb. 22, agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei commended Iran for cooperating with the IAEA on inspections. He also announced that all outstanding questions – including the “most important issue” exploring the “scope and nature” of Iran’s enrichment program – had been resolved.
However, one remaining issue pertaining to the “alleged weaponization studies” in the past appears to be the incendiary behind the most recent UNSC sanctions.
Described by Soltanieh as forgeries, the United States presented these studies to the Board of Governors Feb. 18 – the same day ElBaradei was to issue a report concluding its latest inspections in Iran.
This alleged evidence, Soltanieh said, was a black laptop given to the United States by an Iranian armed opposition group, which contained information that Iran was conducting undeclared research into an enrichment method using uranium tetrafluoride, or “Green Salt.”
“They have said ‘we have found a laptop,’ and in the laptop, one Iranian out of 70 million Iranians had in mind to make research to produce Green Salt, and Iran should prove innocent,” he said. “I want you to understand how ridiculous it is, because we are producing tons of Green Salt now under IAEA surveillance.
We don’t need to have an Iranian doing research to produce one kilogram of it.”
Calling the Green Salt evidence the latest politically motivated US ploy to discredit Iran, Soltanieh followed up with “one memory” to illustrate his perceived ineptitude of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which he called “not clever, but stupid.”
Soltanieh said he once escorted inspectors to a site flagged by a two-year CIA project as an undeclared uranium mine and conversion facility. After several fruitless days of searching, it was revealed that the undeclared facility was actually a stone-cutting workshop, which had recently built a few extra lavatories for their newly employed workers, Soltanieh said. “It was very embarrassing for the IAEA inspectors,” he added.
The US is at loggerheads with Iran over Tehran’s independent and home-grown nuclear technology. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.
Washington’s push for additional UN penalties contradicted the recent report by 16 US intelligence bodies that endorsed the civilian nature of Iran’s programs. Following the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and similar reports by the IAEA head – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran, any effort to impose further sanctions on Iran seemed to be completely irrational.
The February report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, praised Iran’s cooperation in clearing up all of the past questions over its nuclear program, vindicating Iran’s nuclear program and leaving no justification for any new UN sanctions.
Tehran says it never worked on atomic weapons and wants to enrich uranium merely for civilian purposes, including generation of electricity, a claim substantiated by the NIE and IAEA reports.
Iran has insisted it would continue enriching uranium because it needs to provide fuel to a 300-megawatt light-water reactor it is building in the southwestern town of Darkhovin as well as its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr.
Not only many Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also many other world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency.
US President George W. Bush, who finished a tour of the Middle East last month has called on his Arab allies to unite against Iran.
But hosting officials of the regional nations dismissed Bush’s allegations, describing Tehran as a good friend of their countries.
Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran has lost steam due to the growing international vigilance, specially following the latest IAEA and US intelligence reports.