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Friday, July 21, 2006

U.S. Accuses Iran Over North Korean Missile Tests

Fri, 21 Jul 2006, 00:52

Iran accused the United States on July 20 of trying to obstruct talks to end a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program, while Washington said its fears had risen because Iranians had witnessed North Korean missile tests.

Both sides traded the accusations as the U.N. Security Council wrangled over a resolution to make legally binding demands Iran halt uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power stations or bomb material. Iran again rejected international calls for it to scrap nuclear fuel production.

A senior U.S. official said on July 20 U.S. worries about Iran’s nuclear capabilities had deepened because one or more Iranians witnessed missile tests on July 4 in North Korea, which experts say is a key partner in Tehran’s missile program.

Washington, which has accused Iran of having a secret program to build nuclear arms, says the two nations have been collaborating and has expressed concern cash-strapped Pyongyang was keen to sell missiles and possibly also atomic material.

Asked at a U.S. Senate hearing about reports Iranians witnessed the North Korean tests, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill said: "Yes, that is my understanding." It was "absolutely correct" the relationship was worrisome, he said.

Experts say Iran’s Shahab 3 missile has a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) and is based on a North Korean design.

No Iranian comment was immediately available on Hill’s statement. Iran has denied the U.S. charges it has a secret nuclear arms program, saying it is solely for electricity.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said Tehran was still reviewing proposals backed by six leading world powers to end the standoff and wanted talks to solve the dispute.

"(But the United States) has been trying to create obstacles in the way of talks and a diplomatic solution to this issue," he was quoted as saying in a statement by Iranian state television.

Iran’s case was referred back to the U.N. Security Council last week after it failed to formally respond to the proposals, which include diplomatic and economic incentives to try to persuade Tehran to suspend sensitive nuclear work.

Larijani repeated Iran’s stance on nuclear fuel production. "Based on law, Iran has planned to produce 20,000 MW of nuclear electricity in the next 20 years and needs to produce nuclear fuel inside the country for those reactors," he said.

Tehran says it will reply by Aug. 22 to the proposals put forward by the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France -- the five permanent members of the Security Council -- plus Germany. It has rejected calls for a swifter response.

Iran says it wants nuclear talks with European states and on July 19 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Its content has not been revealed.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow accused Iran of buying time. "Certainly the longer they can drag it out the more they can develop in the way of capabilities. I see that as kind of a bargaining ploy," Snow told reporters.

Iranian officials have previously threatened that if pushed, Iran would review cooperation with the U.N. atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the country’s adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said on July 19 major powers disagreed about how to make legally binding demands that Iran suspend enrichment and stop work on a reactor that can produce plutonium, which in turn can have military applications.

Russia and China, both of which have opposed sanctions, have raised questions in informal talks about a draft U.N. Security Council resolution backed by Western nations.

The draft includes threats of sanctions and will also set a date, possibly by the end of August, for Iran to comply.
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