Monday, January 30, 2012

All options on table against nuke-armed Iran: Panetta


Tehran cites positive atmosphere in the three-day long inspection tour of UN nuclear watchdog IAEA. However, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta raises stakes by reiterating Iran could produce a nuclear bomb within a year

Students from various universities in Tehran hold
pictures of Iranian scientist Ahmadi-Roshan,
as they wait for arrival of IAEA delegates at
Tehran airport.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi expressed optimism that a visit by U.N. inspectors to Iran’s nuclear facilities would produce an understanding, while U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Iran was only one year away from producing a nuclear weapon.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team started the three-day inspection tour Jan. 29. “We are very optimistic about the mission and the outcome” of the IAEA mission, Mehr news agency quoted Salehi as saying. Salehi also said the delegation could choose to extend its stay beyond the three days originally planned if it wished. “We are very optimistic on the results of the IAEA trip. They are here for a three-day trip, and if they want, it [the mission] could be extended,” Salehi said.

“We’ve always tried to put transparency as a principle in our cooperation with IAEA,” Salehi said. “During this visit, the delegation has questions and the necessary answers will be given.”

The team is likely to visit an underground enrichment site near the holy city of Qom, 130 km south of Tehran, which is carved into a mountain as protection against possible airstrikes. Earlier this month, Iran said it had begun enrichment work at the site, which is far smaller than the country’s main uranium labs but is reported to have more advanced equipment.

All options on the table

Despite Salehi’s positive remarks, the United States defense secretary reiterated the U.S.’s concerns over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

“The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb,” Panetta said during an interview with CBS news. Panetta also highlighted Obama’s opposition to Iran’s nuclear program and said the U.S. shared common goals with Israel in its opposition to the program. “If they proceed and we get intelligence that they’re proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon then we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it,” he added.

The visit was set to coincide with a vote in Iran’s Parliament on a bill that would require the government to immediately cut the flow of crude oil to Europe in retaliation for sanctions. Lawmakers postponed the vote Jan. 29 to further study the bill, and no date for a vote has yet been set. The draft bill is Iran’s response to an European Union decision last week to impose an embargo on Iranian oil. After the delay Iran’s Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said the Islamic state would soon stop exporting crude to “some” countries, the state news agency IRNA reported.

Compiled from AP, AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

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