Iran wants nuclear weapon technology: ElBaradei
Wed Jun 17, 2009 10:47am EDT
[-] Text [+] LONDON (Reuters) - Iran wants the ability to build nuclear weapons to gain the reputation of a major power in the Middle East, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a BBC interview broadcast on Wednesday.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said Iran sees nuclear weapons as an "insurance policy" against perceived threats from neighboring countries or the United States.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election has cast doubt on Western powers' hopes of a new dialogue with Iran over its nuclear program, which Iran says is for producing electricity only, not atomic bombs.
"My gut feeling is that Iran definitely would like to have the technology ... that would enable it to have nuclear weapons if they decided to do so," ElBaradei told the BBC. "It wants to send a message to its neighbors, it wants to send a message to the rest of the world: yes, don't mess with us, we can have nuclear weapons if we want it. "But the ultimate aim of Iran, as I understand it, is that they want to be recognized as a major power in the Middle East and they are. "This is to them the road to get that recognition to power and prestige and ... an insurance policy against what they heard in the past about regime change, axis of evil."
In Vienna, the United States told a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation governing body that Iran now appeared to be in the position to "weaponize" enrichment. "Iran is now either very near or in possession of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, if the decision were made to (further) enrich it to weapons-grade," U.S. envoy Geoffrey Pyatt said. To do that, Iran would have to reconfigure its enrichment plant to yield bomb-ready nuclear fuel and miniaturize the material to fit into a warhead -- technical steps that could take from six months to a year or more, nuclear analysts say.
Ahmadinejad indicated on Sunday that there would be no change in nuclear policy during his second term, saying the issue "belongs in the past." Pyatt said Iran's stonewalling since August 2008 of an IAEA investigation into U.S. intelligence allegations that it researched atomic bomb design, and its curbs on U.N. inspections, "deeply undermines Iran's assertion that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful in nature."
Six countries, including European Union members Britain, France and Germany, have offered Iran economic and other incentives if it stops enriching uranium, a process that can make fuel for power plants or weapons. Iran has not engaged the six-power offer and says its enrichment program is a non-negotiable fait accompli.
(Reporting by Peter Griffiths in London and Mark Heinrich in Vienna; Editing by Alison Williams)