- Associated Press - Monday, September 19, 2011

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu accused Iran of nuclear “denial, deceit and evasion” on Monday, warning that Tehran’s decision to move some uranium enrichment facilities to an underground bunker brings it closer to being able to producing the fissile core of a warhead.

Tehran, however, said Western pressure was to blame for its decision to relocate thousands of enrichment machines into a fortified subterranean location and for refusing to open its nuclear activities to greater outside perusal.

Iranian Vice President Fereydoun Abbassi Davani said that “hostile positions and measures of (a) few countries” force other nations “to make their peaceful activities … secret and put them underground.”

The sharp tone of the exchanges on the opening day of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 151-nation annual conference reflected the international divide over Iran’s nuclear activities nine years after revelations that the Islamic Republic secretly was assembling a uranium enrichment facility.

Since then, the U.N. Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran for its refusal to stop enrichment. Tehran says it wants only to make fuel for a future reactor network, but international intelligence suggesting it has worked — or is still working — on developing a nuclear warhead and other components of an arms program has sharpened fears that it will use enrichment for making fissile warhead material.

Mr. Chu’s comments were particularly outspoken considering his department’s main focus — domestic energy, environmental and nuclear issues — reflecting concerns that Iran might be seeking to develop nuclear weapons despite its denials of such aims.

Iran has continued to engage in a long-standing pattern of denial, deceit and evasion, in violation of its nonproliferation obligations,” he told the meeting. “Time and time again, Iran has refused to satisfy legitimate concerns about the nature of its nuclear program — selectively rejecting IAEA requests for access to, and information about, its nuclear facilities.”

 

Echoing the U.S. stance, French Energy Minister Eric Besson said Iran’s nuclear program “poses an unacceptable threat to the regime of nonproliferation and to regional stability.”

“The continuation of the Iranian activities in the field of enrichment as well as the failure by Iran to cooperate with the agency are grounds for profound concern as to the real aims of that program,” he said.

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