Iranian official clashes with msnbc TV hosts

/ Source: staff and news service reports

In a heated television exchange, a top Iranian official called the United States the world's largest source of state-sponsored terrorism, called Israel's government a "racist regime" and rejected an international report saying that Iran was trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of the High Council for Human Rights of Iran, clashed with hosts and other guests on the MSNBC show "Morning Joe."

Larijani dismissed as "laughable" an IAEA report last week assessing that Iran has been conducting research and experiments geared to developing a nuclear weapons capability.

He said the IAEA's allegations were "based on a document put to us four years ago," adding: "It [was] discussed with the agency and the conclusion was that none of these allegations could be verified."

The whole issue was “closed” at that time, he said, because the evidence was "totally inconclusive."

He claimed Iranian transparency on nuclear programs exceeded that of Western nations and said there was "no single secret activity" concealed from international inspectors and that the United States was guilty of the "demonization of Iran," adding that Tehran had "fantastic relations with all of our neighbors."

He said Iran was not interested in producing nuclear weapons because that would be "against Islamic code." He called nuclear weapons "more liability than asset for us" and said the country's "military muscle is strong enough to repel or deter any imminent threat.”

Larijani's claims about the nuclear program were rejected as "preposterous" by fellow studio guest Dr. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. He said anyone who believed an oil-rich country was building underground and undeclared nuclear facilities and using nuclear energy only to produce electricity "would seriously have to believe in the tooth fairy."

Larijani compared Iran's nuclear program to Israel's, noting that Israel already has nuclear weapons and does not disclose any details of its program.

When Larijani complained that his country did not have access to nuclear fuel for electricity generation, Haas said that is because of American concerns about Iran's track record on terrorism.

"The United States of America is the largest and the greatest country supporting terrorism," Larijani protested. "The record of terrorist activity which is supported by tax money of these people is enormous."

"That's absurd, saying that America is the biggest terrorist nation in the world," commentator Mike Barnicle said.

Later, Larijani called Israel a "renegade state" that is "the source of all tension in the region."

Asked directly if he supported Israel's right to exist, Larijani called Israel a "racist regime."

The exchanges came after a report that the U.N. atomic agency reached agreement with Russia and China on a resolution criticizing Iran's nuclear defiance, The resolution document, obtained by The Associated Press, stops short of setting an ultimatum for allowing a probe of its alleged secret work on atomic weapons.

The resolution document is expected to be circulated and voted on Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board.

The IAEA resolution had been eagerly awaited as a signal of how harshly Iran would be treated for ignoring both IAEA and U.N. Security Council demands that it stop activities that could be used to make nuclear arms and allow the agency to probe its alleged secret weapons work.

It was also an indication that the six world powers at the forefront of trying to engage Iran on cooperating with the international community on its nuclear program had surmounted a difficult hurdle testing their unity.

The organization wants to send a high-level mission to Iran to address mounting concerns it may be seeking to design atom bombs.

The U.S. and its Western allies — Britain, France and Germany — had come to the meeting saying they were seeking a tough warning to the Islamic Republic to start cooperating or face renewed referral to the Security Council. But Russia and China were opposed to any harsh criticism or an overt time frame on Iran to act or face further punishment.

The text, shared with the AP, reflected compromise on both sides. It expressed "serious concern that Iran continues to defy the requirements and obligations contained in the relevant IAEA Board of Governors and UN Security Council Resolutions."

It also spoke of "deep and increasing concern about the unresolved issues regarding the Iranian nuclear program, including those which need to be clarified to exclude the existence of possible military dimensions."

"Serious concern," and "deep and increasing concern" are strong terms in the diplomatic world. At the same time, the text had no reference to Security Council referral if Tehran remained defiant, although two Western diplomats said that could still happen at the next IAEA meeting in March.

In opening comments to the meeting, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano also repeated his concerns "regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," saying such work may extend into the present.

The West had hoped that an unprecedented detailing of Iran's alleged secret weapons work contained in a restricted Nov. 8 IAEA report could sway Moscow and Beijing. For the first time, the agency said Iran was suspected of clandestine work that is "specific to nuclear weapons."

In comments to the closed meeting made available to reporters, Amano said his agency finds the information leading to such suspicions to be generally credible.

"The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device," he said. "It also indicates that, prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured program, and that some activities may still be ongoing."

Amano said he has written Iranian officials proposing that a high-level IAEA mission go to Tehran to try and jump-start his agency's stalled probe and is awaiting a reply.

Western diplomats defended the compromise late on Wednesday. One — who, like others, asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing the document — said the compromise text would likely be supported by almost all 35 board members with the probable exception of Cuba, which always votes against resolutions critical of Iran.

Avoiding a big power split along East-West lines is taking on increased urgency as Tehran advances in enriching uranium, which can be used for making weapons as well as fueling reactors.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Thursday she was "still waiting" for Iran to propose ways to prove to the IAEA and the world that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.

In talks with Iran early this year, six global powers offered "a series of ideas for ways in which Iran could move forward with all of us and demonstrate to the IAEA that it was serious about turning away from the path of nuclear weapons and was seeking a civil nuclear programme," Ashton told reporters in Moscow after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

She said she had told the Iranian negotiator at the time "that we left those (ideas) on the table and we were open for their ideas to put on the table. And I'm still waiting."

Tehran denies hiding a weapons program and insists its enrichment activities are meant only as an energy source. But as Iran gets closer to bomb-making ability, Israel may opt to strike militarily rather than take the chance that its arch foe will possess nuclear weapons.

Amano said he had written to the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, earlier this month to suggest a visit, which would air issues raised by the hard-hitting IAEA report on Iran.

"Preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is one of the IAEA's core responsibilities," the veteran Japanese diplomat told the closed meeting, according to a copy of his speech.

"Throughout the past three years, we have obtained additional information which gives us a fuller picture of Iran's nuclear program and increases our concerns about possible military dimensions," Amano said.

"The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device," he said, in his toughest public statement so far on Iran's contested nuclear program.