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Iran says UN agency sending spies, not inspectors

 Iran-Ali-asghar-ambassadorTEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s intelligence chief accused the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency of sending spies in the guise of inspectors to gather information about Iran’s nuclear activities, state TV reported Saturday. The claim was another sign that Iran has hardened its stance since the assassination a week ago of a prominent nuclear scientist and the wounding of another.

Iran is to hold talks beginning Monday in Geneva with world powers trying to persuade it to curtail key elements of its nuclear work. Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi said inspectors sent by the International Atomic Energy Agency had engaged in espionage and the Vienna-based agency must take responsibility for their actions. He did not elaborate or identify the inspectors Iran was accusing. Iran has increasingly alleged in recent months that the agency’s inspectors have leaked information to U.S. officials and other allies. In June, Iran banned two U.N. nuclear inspectors from entering the country, claiming they had leaked “false” information about the country’s disputed nuclear program. “Among the individuals the IAEA sends as so-called inspectors, there are spies from foreign intelligence services. The IAEA must be held responsible for this,” state TV quoted Moslehi as saying.

In Vienna, IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said the agency had no comment on the spying allegations. The tough line by Tehran also appeared to spill over in the upcoming talks with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China — plus Germany. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called the slaying of the nuclear scientist a “disgrace” for the Security Council, claiming the attacks were linked to efforts to “implement” international sanctions. He did not elaborate. Iran also has claimed the attacks were part of a Western covert campaign to sabotage its nuclear program. Standing before a photo of the slain nuclear scientist, Majid Shahriari, Jalili also predicted there will be no progress in Geneva until Iran’s “rights” are respected — an apparent reference to its program to enrich uranium. Talks between Iran and the world powers broke down last year when Iran rebuffed a U.N.-drafted plan to ship abroad its stockpile of low-enriched uranium in exchange for reactor-ready fuel. Low-enriched uranium can be used in reactors, but also for warheads if brought to much higher enrichment levels. The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran’s nuclear work is aimed at producing weapons.

Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to make fuel for power plants and not process it to the higher levels needed to make weapons. The twin bombings last Monday in Tehran that killed Shahriari have threatened to complicate international efforts to open dialogue with Iran’s leaders over their nuclear ambitions. According to Iran, the allaged campaign has included the abduction of Iranian scientists, the sale of faulty equipment and the planting of a destructive computer worm known as Stuxnet, which briefly brought Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to a halt last month. Iran’s chief suspect is archenemy Israel, whose Mossad spy agency has a long history of assassinating foes far beyond the country’s borders. The intelligence chief Moslehi again accused Israel’s Mossad, Britain’s MI6 and the CIA of being behind the daring attacks. Iran has also expressed its displeasure with IAEA chief Yukiya Amano’s report, issued this week, on its nuclear program. The report said Iran had fewer centrifuges functioning than previously believed, suggesting its uranium enrichment program was not progressing as fast as Iran hoped. Iran says the IAEA should just inspect the nuclear facilities and not release details like how much uranium or how many centrifuges it has. Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, meanwhile, repeated Iran’s position that it will seek to broaden the Geneva talks to include Tehran’s views on world affairs. He gave no specifics on the “Iranian agenda,” but among Iran’s key efforts is to open an international debate over Israel’s undeclared but widely suspected nuclear arsenal. “We will focus on dialogue.

Our agenda will be presented at the meeting,” he said Saturday at a security conference in Bahrain, a day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the same gathering. Clinton noted Iran’s right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program, but challenged the Islamic Republic to prove to the world that it does not seek atomic weapons. Mottaki also reached out to Arab neighbors, whose leaders were cited in U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks expressing fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and urging U.S.-led military action. Mottaki urged the region to avoid “pressure by outsiders to divide us and create instability.” He also denounced the presence of “foreign powers” in the Gulf, which include the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain. Iran’s state-run Press TV also quoted Mottaki as supporting the idea of a global nuclear fuel bank, but only if a branch is set up in Iran. The IAEA seeks to create a clearing house for nuclear reactor fuel to ensure a stable supply and reduce the need for countries to start their own uranium enrichment. Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Mottaki as saying he exchanged pleasantries with Clinton in Bahrain. But aboard her plane, Clinton said that Mottaki did not respond to her greeting in a hotel ballroom. “He saw me and he stopped and began to turn away and I said, ‘Hello, minister.’ He just turned away,” she said.

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