TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s president said Saturday that President Barack Obama made a big mistake when he accused the country of hiding a newly revealed nuclear site that Iran claims it reported to the U.N. even earlier than required.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments came only hours before the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, arrived in Iran to arrange an inspection of the uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom.
Iran agreed to allow U.N. inspectors into the facility at a landmark meeting with six world powers near Geneva on Thursday that put nuclear talks back on track and included the highest-level bilateral contact with the U.S. in three decades. But the new site has raised concerns among the U.S. and many of its allies who suspect Iran of using its nuclear program as a way to develop weapons capability, an allegation rejected by Tehran.
ElBaradei recently said Tehran was “on the wrong side of the law” over its new plant because he argued the country should have revealed its plans as soon as it decided to build the facility, a position backed by the U.S. Iranian officials disagree, saying that under IAEA safeguard rules, a member state is required to inform the agency about the existence of a nuclear facility six months before introducing nuclear material into the machines. Iran says the new facility won’t be operational for 18 months, so Iran has not violated any IAEA requirements.
Ahmadinejad said Iran voluntarily revealed the facility to the IAEA in a letter on Sept. 21, four days before Obama and the leaders of France and Britain denounced Tehran for hiding the nuclear site from the world for years.
“The U.S. president made a big and historic mistake,” Iranian state TV quoted Ahmadinejad as saying during a speech Saturday. “Later it became clear that (his) information was wrong and that we had no secrecy.”
The IAEA has said that Iran is obliged under the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to notify the organization when it begins to design a new nuclear facility.
Iran says it voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol for 2 1/2 years as a confidence-building gesture, but it’s parliament passed legislation in 2007 forcing the government to end such cooperation after the country was referred to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
The IAEA has countered by saying that a government cannot unilaterally abandon such an agreement.
Suspicion that Iran’s newly revealed nuclear site was meant for military purposes was heightened by its location at least partly inside a mountain and next to a military base.
Iran has said it built the facility in such a way only to ensure continuity of its nuclear activities in case of an attack.
ElBaradei arrived in Iran on Saturday to meet with Iranian officials, state radio reported.
An IAEA spokesman said that in addition to the new nuclear facility, ElBaradei will also discuss a plan to allow Russia to take some of Iran’s enriched uranium and enrich it to higher levels to fuel its research reactor in Tehran. Western officials said Iran agreed to the plan at Thursday’s meeting, a potentially significant move that
would show greater flexibility by both sides.
Obama noted the deal in comments on the meeting. But Mehdi Saffare, Iran’s ambassador to Britain and a member of the Iranian delegation at the talks, said Iran had not yet agreed to such a plan.