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Iran Defends Nuclear Activities


It was no coincidence that Iran's president traveled to the city of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf yesterday to speak about Iran's nuclear program. Iran's nuclear power plant is located there, and the Iranian leader told a crowd of thousands that, in his words, the bullying of other nations would not prevent Iran from acquiring advanced nuclear technology.

President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iraq): (Farsi Spoken)

WERTHEIMER: Speaking in Farsi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, despite our enemies, our country will continue on a road to progress. Iranian government officials from the president on down emphasized they will not give up the right to enrich uranium, and they insist the United States and Europe are falsely accusing Iran of seeking nuclear weapons.

NPR's Mike Shuster joins us now from Tehran.

Mike, welcome.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:


WERTHEIMER: Mike, what is the position of the Iranian government on the possible IAEA referral to the Security Council?

SHUSTER: Well, the leaders of Iran have been saying for a number of weeks now that the IAEA has no legal right to refer Iran to the Security Council, because Iran has done nothing illegal, they claim. Iran continues to cooperate fully with the IAEA on inspections of its nuclear facilities. The Iranians have not, they say, prevented inspectors, and there are many of them here, and they've been here for several years. The Iranians say that the government has not prevented them from going and investigating these sites.

The Iranians also say that it was more than a year ago that they pledged to suspend uranium enrichment activities voluntarily and temporarily. They always emphasize this. While talks with Europe were underway, there were negotiations that ended last August that had continued for more than a year with three major European powers: Germany, France, and Great Britain. And the Iranians say those negotiations went nowhere. Therefore, that's why the re-started some of their nuclear activities. The Iranians claim this is purely a case of the West discriminating against Iran.

WERTHEIMER: So, what are the Iranian officials likely to do if the issue does go to the Security Council?

SHUSTER: Well, senior Iranian officials are hinting that they have a whole array of actions that they could take, mostly against the IAEA here in Iran. First, they say they can end snap inspections based on the Additional Protocol.

Now, the Additional Protocol is something that the IAEA developed in the late 1990s, and the IAEA has asked a number of nations to allow snap inspections, surprise inspections, nearly everywhere in a country. And the Iranians signed on to that a couple of years ago. The Iranian parliament never ratified the additional protocol, but the Iranian government at the time pledged that it would allow those kind of snap inspections.

And in fact, there have been snap inspections based on the Additional Protocol that have been going on in Iran for a couple of years. The Iranian leaders now say they'll end these snap inspections based on Additional Protocol if the issue is sent to the Security Council. They hint they might end almost all cooperation with the IAEA and move it down to what they call the lowest level.

They say that there was a bill passed by parliament last year, which gives them no choice. This bill, which past by a parliament that's heavily conservative now, that essentially requires the government to stop Additional Protocol-style inspections if the issue goes to the Security Council.

And the Iranians have hinted that they might begin fuller scale uranium enrichment. One official said the facility at Netanz, which is the main facility where they plan to enrich uranium, is ready to go.

WERTHEIMER: Usually, there are conflicting statements coming out of Iran, but it sounds like they're all on message. Is that right?

SHUSTER: Yeah, it really does for the first time. For the last few years, there have always been conflicting messages coming from different offices in the Iranian government. And the Iranian government is a confused government with many different power centers. But now, in the last couple of months, the message from the Foreign Ministry has been the same message from the Supreme Leader's office, the same message from the president's office, the same message from the National Security Council. So, they seemed to have coordinated their policies, finally, on this issue.

WERTHEIMER: Mike, what about diplomatic efforts by Iran? It also seems as though the rest of the world is relatively coordinated at this point. What can they do?

SHUSTER: The Iranians, it appears, have been reaching out to what use to be called Non-Aligned Nations. The Iranian president has been on the phone to some of the more leftist leaders in Latin America. India is a key player, and the Iranians have been pushing diplomacy with India. The Iranians have a big energy deal with India that's pending, and they want India not to side with the United States and vote against them at the IAEA.

There's a belief here that, because Iran, they say, is being discriminated against by the West, that a broader coalition of developing nations might come to the aid of Iran in this; and especially because almost half of the nations on the Board of Governors at the IAEA are from the developing world.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Mike.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mike Shuster reporting from Tehran. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.