Under prodding, Ahmadinejad invites inspection of nuclear site

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 25, 2009 

NEW YORK -- On the defensive Friday from Western accusations about a secret uranium-enrichment facility, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had acted legally, and he offered to open the site to international inspections.

At a news conference on the sidelines of the U.N., and in multiple media interviews, Ahmadinejad chastised President Barack Obama and European leaders for challenging Iran on the issue. Obama, he said, would regret it.

Ahmadinejad maintained his usual smiling composure, but he seemed surprised by the furor over the facility's existence, which Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy had announced earlier Friday. A senior Western official said the announcement was pulled together hurriedly in recent days. The official spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"They wanted to set up a sort of media game, take the stage to sort of set up the upper hand. This is not nice," the Iranian leader told the news conference at a New York hotel. He apparently referred to upcoming talks Thursday among Iran, the United States and five other nations. "This kind of behavior goes back to what was done in the past," he said.

At another point, he said he was unaware of Obama's contention hours earlier that the size and configuration of the yet-to-be completed facility are "inconsistent with a peaceful (nuclear) program."

Obama, Sarkozy and Brown disclosed the existence of the underground enrichment plant Friday morning at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. On Monday, Iran had privately notified the International Atomic Energy Agency — the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, based in Vienna, Austria — of what it called a "pilot" facility near Iran's holy Shiite Muslim city of Qom.

Ahmadinejad said IAEA specialists were welcome to inspect the facility.

"We don't have any problems with inspections of the facility. We have no fears," he said.

He taunted the U.S. president. "I don't think Mr. Obama is a nuclear expert," he said. "We have to leave it to the IAEA, and let the IAEA carry out its duty."

As the allegations unfolded Friday, Iran's response was that it's legally entitled to build uranium enrichment facilities for civilian power and that it didn't have to notify the U.N. nuclear agency until six months before the plant is to go on line.

An IAEA spokesman, Marc Vidricaire, said Iran had told the agency that no nuclear fuel had been introduced into the plant. The IAEA has requested access to the site and more information, he said.

Ahmadinejad told the news conference, where he sat in front of Iran's flag at a table decorated with red, purple and white flowers: "If you want to build a plant, you can do that." Iran notified the agency a year before it was required to do so, he said, calling that "a really positive measure. We did something well beyond what was required."

While Iran says it's pulled out of a previous agreement that required it to inform the IAEA of new enrichment facilities while they're still in the design stage, the agency says the agreement is still in force.


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Check out McClatchy's national security blog: Nukes & Spooks

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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