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Iran's Atomic Energy Agency General Director: 'We Will Not Accept the New Tone' from the IAEA

Iran is not happy with the new director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano. The head of Tehran's own nuclear body, Ali Akbar Salehi, accuses Amano in a SPIEGEL interview of being prejudiced against his country and warns that his course could lead to a global "catastrophe."

Iranian Atomic Energy Angency General Director Ali Akbar Salehi: "We are a sovereign nation, not some lackey." Zoom
AFP

Iranian Atomic Energy Angency General Director Ali Akbar Salehi: "We are a sovereign nation, not some lackey."

SPIEGEL: At the beginning of the month, opposition activists in exile revealed the existence of a secret uranium enrichment facility located near Abyek, some 120 kilometers west of Tehran. Did you make this trip to Vienna in order to admit the existence of further underground facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?

Salehi: This most recent accusation is an impertinence. I wish these opposition groups had been more precise about these supposed processing facilities. Had they done so, I would take you to the alleged site during your next visit so you could see first-hand how untenable their allegations are.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps you should consider allowing IAEA inspectors to investigate the allegations instead.

Salehi: We definitely won't allow that. Where would we be if we were to allow controllers into our country following every unjustified allegation? We are a sovereign nation, not some lackey.

SPIEGEL: Yet you are indeed searching for additional sites that might be suitable for the construction of underground laboratories.

Salehi: We are currently looking into where we might be able to build facilities that are immune to any possible threat. We have found 10 such sites, spread out across the country. But that doesn't mean that we want to build factories there tomorrow. We are waiting for the decision of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as to where we should in fact begin working. We will perhaps begin the construction of one facility as early as next spring. When we get to that stage, we will make the project public.

SPIEGEL: Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, recently indicated that he was prepared to continue talks if the group of negotiating partners -- which currently includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany -- were to be enlarged. Do you have any concrete proposals?

Salehi: There is a lot to talk about, and an enlargement of the group ...

SPIEGEL: ... by adding, for example, representatives from governments that are more friendly to Tehran, such as Venezuela, Brazil or Turkey. ...

Salehi: ... would be a good opportunity to clear up several questions regarding international nuclear policy. But we will not give up our guaranteed right to enrich uranium to a low level for civilian purposes.

SPIEGEL: Tehran, in other words, is remaining on the path of confrontation with the international community?

Salehi: We are not interested in provoking conflict. I have traveled to Vienna for the general conference of the IAEA to represent Iran as an engaged member, despite the apparent bias of the new general director, Yukiya Amano.

SPIEGEL: What exactly do you accuse him of?

Salehi: Amano failed a number of times with his application for this position despite the fact that he comes from a powerful country like Japan. Many countries were concerned that he would yield to external pressure. He was only elected with a slim majority after he expressly promised his integrity. But exactly that is lacking from our point of view. Mr. Amano must be careful not to lose his legitimacy due to his partisanship for certain policies.

SPIEGEL: Amano has merely been more direct in pointing out Iran's lapses than his predecessor Mohammed ElBaradei.

Salehi: Amano has simply reheated old accusations. And when we reject two inspectors, which is our right, he presents that as a lack of cooperation. I am trying to accommodate the IAEA beyond that which is required by our written obligations. Opposition to a flexible cooperation with the IAEA has, however, grown significantly in Tehran. We will not accept the new tone.

SPIEGEL: Are you threatening to cease cooperating?

Salehi: We are not threatening anyone. It is merely a friendly, but serious, warning that one should not allow oneself to be politically instrumentalized. We are asking ourselves: Is Mr. Amano interested in providing a pretext for an attack against us? ElBaradei's objective approach earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. Is Amano interested in connecting his own name with war? Does he want to see the world beset by catastrophe?

SPIEGEL: You are still in need of Amano's mediation. You are currently in negotiations with the IAEA, France, Russia and the US about fuel rods for your research reactor in Tehran.

Salehi: We asked the IAEA for assistance 15 months ago. The reactor is vital for the treatment of cancer patients, for example. We have not received the help we requested. Now, we are enriching uranium for the reactor ourselves to a level of 20 percent. We have already produced 25 kilograms of the 120 kilograms we need. We are able to produce around five kilos each month. But we are only actually producing the three kilograms that we immediately put into use. Nevertheless, we remain prepared to discuss an exchange.

Interview conducted by Dieter Bednarz

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About Ali Akbar Salehi
AP
Ali Akbar Salehi, 61, is the general director of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency. Prior to his current post, Salehi was the Iranian delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

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