Iran reacts with anger, defiance to IAEA nuclear deadline
TEHRAN (AFP) Sep 13, 2003
Iran has angrily hit back at the UN nuclear watchdog for imposing an October 31 deadline on the Islamic republic to prove it is not secretly developing atomic weapons, dismissing the resolution as "political".

Amid warnings that future cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could be in doubt, Tehran's ambassador to the body, Ali Akbar Salehi told the official news agency IRNA that "Iran cannot take part in a political process".

Salehi walked out of Friday's IAEA meeting in Vienna after Iran was given until October 31 to prove it is not running a covert nuclear weapons programme.

"The Western group in the (IAEA) board of governors, in line with their political goals, have made illegitimate, illegal and impractical requests from Iran," Salehi complained, labelling the United States, Britain, Germany and France as "extremist countries".

"Even if all the claims on Iran's programme's shortcomings are true, they cannot be resolved within the 45 days given to Iran," he added, accusing some Western states of not wishing "to resolve the issue technically and legally".

IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei warned Tehran that it could be declared in non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if it failed to answer all the agency's questions.

But the resolution immediately sparked some calls here for the country's clerical leadership to follow the path of North Korea and pull out of the NPT.

State television said in a commentary that the resolution was "political", and "directed by the United States and the Zionist regime (Israel)".

And conservative MP Akbar Alami, a member of the parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, told IRNA that the current wave of "pressure on Iran is due to its membership of the NPT", and that "therefore Iran's membership of the NPT should be annulled."

The ultra-hardline Jomhuri Eslami newspaper wrote that Tehran "should not pay any attention to the US, the Europeans and international organisations ... and accept that the right path is the one that the North Koreans have chosen."

The hardline Kayhan newspaper, which also advocated pulling out of the NPT, accused European Union countries and the United States of seeking to "completely disarm Iran and convert it to a weak and feeble country like Iraq in order to overrun it."

The paper said ambassadors of Japan, Australia and Canada -- the countries that submitted the resolution during the Vienna meeting -- should be expelled from Tehran and only allowed back when they apologise.

Before the resolution was passed, powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said in a Friday prayer sermon that "what is happening now in Vienna is an unjust, tyrannical and unilateral process."

Rafsanjani, still one of Islamic Iran's most influential players, said that "no regime will accept such a thing, and in fact one of the objectives of our revolution was to struggle against those who want to force us to submit to their will," he said.

His defiant comments were carried on the front page of most newspapers here.

The resolution passed by the IAEA on Friday -- a compromise text submitted by Canada, Australia and Japan -- said it was "essential and urgent" for Tehran to "remedy all failures" in compliance reported by the agency since it began inspections in February, after Iran was revealed to have more nuclear facilities than previously thought.

The resolution also called on Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme and reveal whether it was enriching uranium to weapons-grade level.

But its language was toned down from the original version, "requesting" rather than "calling" for Iran to sign an additional protocol to the NPT that would allow IAEA inspectors to make surprise visits to suspect sites.

France and Germany supported the United States in setting the deadline on Iran, which Washington accuses of developing weapons of mass destruction.

Their backing contrasted sharply with their opposition earlier this year to the US-led invasion of Iraq, which was also alleged to have had weapons of mass destruction.