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IRAN: Nuclear secrets or nuclear pride?

December 13, 2008 |  8:30 am

Soltanieh_2

Secrets? There are no secrets, says Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

Iran is proud of its nuclear program and doesn't try to hide anything, he says, contrary to the allegations of Western officials and other arms control experts who allege that Iran is using a civilian nuclear energy program as a cover to build the infrastructure for a weapons program.

Soltanieh is a loquacious guy who welcomes reporters to his quarters with tea and sweets. He sat down earlier this month for an extensive interview with the Los Angeles Times, some of which appeared in today's paper.

Soltanieh, a former nuclear scientist and an alumnus of Utah State University, insists not only that Iran has stuck to the letter of international law, but also that it has been as transparent as possible. Below are some more excerpts from the interview:

Los Angeles Times: What was the reason for Iran to hide its nuclear program for so many years? Why not be transparent from the beginning?

Ali Asghar Soltanieh: I am thankful that you challenge me. That's what I really love, to be challenged either by journalists or even in many, many countries I go, universities, parliaments, because otherwise this question would be unanswered.

Since six years ago, they spoke about "concealment by Iran." ... I categorically reject "concealment" as far as our legal obligation is concerned. When in 2003 this matter was reflected to the world ... we were only under the comprehensive safeguards of the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], and according to that, all countries are only obliged to report to the agency, 180 days, before they put nuclear material in any nuclear installations.

Therefore, in 2003 [IAEA Director-General Mohamed] ElBaradei was invited, invited by us, to come to the Natanz enrichment facility, and to see the achievements that these machines are rotating 1,000 rotation per second, as a great success. Mr. ElBaradei as a top legal expert did not say, "You have violated your NPT obligation," because Natanz still was not receiving nuclear material.

Legally, you have to understand, we have not had violations. Never, ever [have] the agency or Director-General [ElBaradei] used the notion of noncompliance. Any country might have failure. There were a series of failures. For example, Iran was supposed to report receiving the material 12 years ago, but it reported 10 years ago. These are failures. According to statute and according to safeguard agreement, corrective measures will clean everything. It means as soon as you report, it's OK.

LAT: Maybe you are not obliged according to the law, but why not be transparent to just create a state of confidence?

Soltanieh: Confidence is two-way road, it's not one-way. We have had before a revolution, a lack of confidence and a history of adversity with Americans, occupying Iran during the shah's regime, making a coup d'etat, interfering to our internal affairs. Over 40,000 military advisors were in Iran, all different sectors they were influencing. After the revolution, the West did not continue their legal obligations for nuclear contracts in different areas of nuclear energy, including the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The Germans had received over 7 billion deutschemark, and they left it alone, they left us alone....

Bear in mind the fact that there is a serious concern about leak of confidential information. We wanted to make sure that we get this achievement, everything is ready for inviting the IAEA to visit, to inform the whole world of our success.... How can the people believe that you call this matter "a concealment" when by satellite one could read the nameplates of the cars? ... This is ridiculous.

I can tell you that, in 2003, when we were going with the car, with the inspectors and the officers of the agency ... and you have some sort of area on the right, deserts, and then all of a sudden then these buildings start. This is nothing hidden. Just next to the main road, everybody was seeing it every day. Many of these buses going there, the bus driver was calling out, "Atomic station, anybody want to go out?"

In all nuclear [facilities] of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran -- in Esfahan, in Tehran, in Karaj, in Bushehr, in Arak -- everything has a large plate with the name, "Atomic Energy Organization of Iran," and then the center of so and so. Therefore, everybody, every individual, can see it. We have nothing to hide. In fact, we are proud. We want the whole world to know that we have been successful in nuclear technology.

-- Borzou Daragahi

Photo: Ali Asghar Soltanieh as painted by artist Lisa Ruyter in her "Atoms For Peace" series, on display George Kargl Fine Arts gallery in Vienna until Jan. 11.

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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