IRAN: Ahmadinejad dismisses latest nuclear bomb allegations; U.S. keeps war option on table
Iran’s controversial nuclear program continues to be a hot topic among the world's political players as new developments have emerged on the Iranian nuclear issue over the last few days.
Most recently, a confidential document obtained by the British press that allegedly details Iran's plans to test a nuclear bomb trigger has stirred the pot.
On Dec. 14, The Times of London published what it claims is a memo in Farsi showing a four-year plan by Iran to test a nuclear trigger using the neutron source uranium deuteride.
The document, titled "Outlook for Special Neutron-Related Activities Over the Next Four Years," allegedly provides detailed insight into the work process around the trigger test.
While it stipulates that some of the work can be undertaken at universities, other tasks are too secret and must be performed by special "trustworthy personnel."
The allegations have irked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in a rare interview with an American media outlet lashed out at the trigger report, dismissing it as a "U.S. forgery."
"They are all [a] fabricated bunch of papers continuously being forged and disseminated by the American government," he told ABC News in an interview aired Monday.
He added that the Times of London report is "fundamentally not true."
Fresh off the heels of the flurry of reports around the trigger report, a defiant Ahmadinejad held a fierce speech Monday in the Iranian city of Shiraz in which he called for a nuclear disarmament of the U.S. and Israel.
He vowed to stand up against the U.S. and Israel and international arrogance until the two countries complete disarmament of their nuclear warheads.
"From now on we will be the ones who make demands. The American government has about 8,000 nuclear warheads, it should be disarmed. America and its corrupt follower, the Zionist regime, which has about 400 nuclear warheads, should be disarmed," the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network reported Ahmadinejad as saying as he addressed the crowd in Shiraz.
Countering Ahmadinejad, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was not ruling out military force against Iran as an option should it not start cooperating on dismantling its nuclear weapons program.
"My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results," the Associated Press quoted Mullen as saying. "However, should the president call for military options, we must have them ready."
Meanwhile in Paris, French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner has signaled that time is running out for Iran, saying the international community is left with no other choice than to impose new U.N. sanctions on the Islamic Republic as Iran currently shows no sign of moving toward a more conciliatory position on its nuclear issue.
"I think there is no other solution," Kouchner told reporters Monday. He added that Russia is "on board" with the new sanctions and that he thinks the Chinese will soon follow in Russia’s footsteps.
Russia might be down with new sanctions but certainly not with the use of military force against Iran, as suggested by Mullen.
Speaking today in the Uzbek capital of Tashkent, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov ruled out the use of military force against Iran, underlining that the issue must be solved only through political and diplomatic means.
The use of military force against Iran is "absolutely unacceptable," the Russian news agency Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying.
On the other side of the globe, Iran's top negotiator, Saeed Jalili, currently on a visit to Tokyo, has called for a global ban on nuclear weapons.
"The crime that was committed in Hiroshima must never be repeated," Jalili told journalists there on Monday. "All the efforts of the world should be directed toward the eradication of these weapons."
Jalili was referring to the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima during World War II. But Jalili also emphasized the right of every country to develop nuclear energy, including the Islamic Republic.
As the debate on the Iranian nuclear issue rages on in political circles and on media outlets around the world, widespread skepticism over Tehran's nuclear intentions appear to prevail, not only in the Western world but also among Iran's Arab neighbors.
According to a recent poll commissioned by the Doha Debates, a Qatar-supported free speech forum broadcast on the BBC since 2005, 80% of Arabs are not convinced about Iran's assurances that it is not seeking to build nuclear weapons with its uranium enrichment program.
The poll echoes the vote taken in last month's Doha Debate in which 52% of a mostly Arab audience did not believe Iran could be trusted not to build a nuclear bomb.
The poll, conducted by the Britain-based firm YouGov, surveyed more than 1,000 people in 18 Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and Egypt, from Nov. 19-23.
Iran's closest neighbors across the strait of the Persian Gulf appear to be particularly skeptical of the Islamic Republic. The survey claims that most Arabs living in the Gulf think Iran poses a bigger threat to them than Israel.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photos: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspects the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility in Iran. A confidential document written in Farsi that allegedly outlines Tehran's plans to test a nuclear trigger was recently published in the British press. Credit: Islamic Republic News Agency