Iran says UN watchdog has cleared nuclear program

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's nuclear envoy denied Tuesday that the U.N. inspectors tour of its recently revealed uranium enrichment site has turned up any evidence that the Islamic republic is seeking nuclear weapons.

While the International Atomic Energy Agency report offered no estimate of the facility's capacity, analysts familiar with the agency's work said it appeared to be capable of producing enough material for a warhead but too little for a civilian reactor.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, however, said Tuesday that the IAEA's report proved the country's program was peaceful and that Iran was cooperating with the agency's inspectors.

"The report by the agency showed that there was no deviation in Iran's peaceful nuclear program," he said on Iranian television.

The agency's report said that the facility was in an advanced state of construction with high tech equipment in place ahead of its 2011 startup.

The revelation of the existence of the plant known as Fordo, near Qom, has heightened concerns of other possible undeclared Iranian facilities not subject to IAEA oversight and could be used for military purposes.

The U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are seeking to persuade Iran to accept an enrichment freeze under a plan of exporting Iran's enriched material abroad.

"That offer has been comprehensively rejected," warned British Prime Minister Gordon Brown late Monday. "So it is now not only right but necessary for the world to apply concerted pressure to the Iranian regime."

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama said in China there would be consequences if Iran would not demonstrate that its nuclear program was "peaceful and transparent" and has called for an answer to the U.N. deal by the end of the year.

Soltanieh shot back saying that Obama's remarks would weaken the U.N. watchdog by casting doubt on its findings.

The agency stated that Iran had fully cooperated with the agency and inspections could continue, he maintained.

"In the report it is clearly said that no centrifuge machine has been installed in the site and no nuclear fissile has been used there," he said, describing the report as repeating previous IAEA assertions that Iran's nuclear activities were for peaceful purposes.

Iran is enriching uranium to less than 5 percent, enough to produce fuel but not for making arms. Enriching uranium to much higher levels can produce weapons-grade material.

Under the U.N. plan, after further enrichment in Russia, France would convert the uranium into fuel rods to be returned to Iran for use in a reactor that produces medical isotopes. Fuel rods cannot be readily turned into weapons-grade material.

Soltanieh said, however, that Iran would continue its uranium enrichment, "even if there are threats of attacks on its nuclear facilities."

One of the country's most concerned about the Iranian program is Israel and on Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the world about Iran while riding in a submarine capable of firing nuclear-tipped missiles.

"The threat that Iran poses is very grave for the state of Israel, for peace in the Middle East and the whole world," Netanyahu said aboard the ship INS Eilat. "Without any doubt, we are the first target, but not the last."