Iran Working On Nuclear Arms Plan, France Says

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 17, 2006

PARIS, Feb. 16 -- France accused Iran on Thursday of developing a secret military nuclear program, one of the strongest public allegations yet against Tehran by a European nation.

"No civilian nuclear program can explain the Iranian nuclear program," Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in an interview with France 2 television. "So it is a clandestine military nuclear program."

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, responded on Iranian state television by repeating the country's assertion that its nuclear program was aimed at meeting energy needs. "We want civilian nuclear energy," Larijani said. "We don't want to have the bomb."

The French foreign minister launched his attack two days after Iranian officials confirmed they had resumed uranium enrichment research in defiance of international mandates. His accusations were part of an escalation in rhetoric and international lobbying efforts by both Iran and its antagonists in advance of a scheduled March 6 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency that could set the course for potential political or economic actions against Iran.

Until recently, the United States had taken the hardest line against Iran and its nuclear program. But West European nations, frustrated at a breakdown in more than two years of negotiations between Iran and a group known as the EU3 -- France, Britain and Germany -- have become increasingly stern in their comments.

Moscow also added a warning Thursday, threatening to withdraw its proposal to enrich Iran's uranium in Russia unless the Islamic republic agreed to cease its own enrichment program. Representatives of the two countries are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the proposal, though both sides have attempted to dampen hopes for a breakthrough.

"When confidence in the Iranian nuclear program is reestablished . . . we could come back to the possible implementation of the right that Iran has to develop a nuclear energy sector full scale," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited the Natanz nuclear facility where the uranium enrichment facilities are located, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

"What enemies fear is not production of the atomic bomb, because in today's world atomic bombs are not efficient," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying on the visit. "The main fear and concern of enemies is the self-reliance and knowledge of the Iranian nation and the fact that Iranian youth are acquiring peaceful nuclear technology."

Iran suspended its enrichment program in October 2003 under international pressure. But with negotiations deteriorating between Tehran and European representatives, it announced last month it had broken seals on equipment needed to restart the work. European officials severed negotiations, and the IAEA reported "serious concerns" about Iran's nuclear intentions to the U.N. Security Council.

Members of the Security Council agreed to delay any action on the IAEA report until after the agency's March 6 meeting in hopes that Iran would back off from threats to restart its enrichment program. The IAEA now is scheduled to receive a new report that will include confirmation that engineers in Iran resumed the nuclear enrichment program last weekend, according to diplomats in Vienna.

"The international community has sent a very firm message in telling the Iranians to return to reason and suspend all nuclear activity and the enrichment and conversion of uranium," France's Douste-Blazy said. "But they aren't listening to us.

"Now it is up to the Security Council to say what it will do, what means it will use to stop, to manage, to halt this terrible crisis of nuclear proliferation caused by Iran," Douste-Blazy said.

In the past several days, Iranian officials have begun bracing the public for possible diplomatic, political or economic sanctions.

"The Iranian nation is brave enough to stand against any threats posed by the enemies," Interior Minister Mostafa Pour Mohammadi said Thursday in a speech to Iran's Basij volunteer military forces, IRNA reported. "If the enemies resort to the language of force in dealing with the Iranian nation, there is no doubt they will face strong reaction from our nation."

Iran is also lobbying foreign governments. In a message to Chinese officials printed in the English-language China Daily, Iran's charge d'affaires in Beijing, Farhad Assadi, stressed ties between the two countries and cited the "great potential for cooperation at the bilateral, regional and international levels."

Assadi wrote that trade between Iran and China totaled more than $10 billion last year.

China is one of the five permanent Security Council members and has been one of the most reluctant to support any action against Iran.

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