President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a defiant tone Monday on the 29th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, vowing not to slow Iran's nuclear program and announcing plans to launch more rockets into space as part of its drive to orbit a domestic satellite.
Like Iran's nuclear activities, the country's space program has provoked unease abroad because the same technology needed to send satellites into space can be used to deliver warheads.
Iranian officials insist both the space and nuclear programs are intended for peaceful purposes, and Ahmadinejad rallied Iranians against U.N. Security Council demands that Iran stop enriching uranium.
"I ask the people's view. Would you agree if I ... gave in, surrendered or compromised over the nuclear issue? Would you agree to give up one iota of your nuclear rights?" Ahmadinejad asked hundreds of thousands at a gathering in the capital.
The crowd chanted in response: "No!" and "Nuclear energy is our definite right."
State TV said millions took to the streets across Iran to mark the anniversary of the 1979 revolution that toppled a pro-U.S. monarchy and brought hard-line clerics to power. Hundreds of thousands marched in Tehran shouting "Death to America" and burning effigies of President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Washington has led the push for a third round of sanctions against Iran for ignoring U.N. demands that it suspend uranium enrichment, a technology that can produce nuclear reactor fuel or material for an atomic bomb. Last month, the five permanent Security Council members ï¿½ the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France ï¿½ agreed on a draft resolution for new sanctions.
Ahmadinejad said Monday that Iran won't be frightened by the threat of more sanctions. He also warned the Security Council that it risked losing credibility by relying on U.S.-led questions about Iranian nuclear intentions.
"If (Security Council) powers make any decision against the Iranian nation, they in fact decide against their own credibility," he said.
He was alluding to a U.S. intelligence report in December that concluded Iran stopped a nuclear weapons program in late 2003 and had not resumed it. U.S. officials, however, continue to warn that Iran's enrichment work could easily allow Tehran to resume weapons development.
Ahmadinejad also dedicated Monday's speech to promoting Iran's space program, saying two more research rockets will be fired into space before the first Iranian-made satellite is put into orbit, hopefully by this summer.
Earlier this month, Iran said it launched its first research rocket into space and unveiled its first major space center and an Iranian-built satellite ï¿½ called the Omid, or Hope.
"Today, we possess all the fundamental sections needed to launch a satellite into space," said Ahmadinejad. "We built all ourselves."
The U.S. called the Feb. 4 rocket launch "just another troubling development" amid concerns about Iran's development of medium- and long-range missiles.
Despite the anxiety over the space program, it is not clear how far along Iran really is, and analysts have expressed doubts about previous Iranian announcements of such technological achievements.
On Monday, Ahmadinejad offered the first details about the Feb. 4 launch. He said the first section of the rocket ï¿½ the Kavoshgar-1, or Explorer-1 ï¿½ detached after 90 seconds and returned to earth by parachute. The second segment entered space for about five minutes, he said, and the final section was sent "toward" orbit to collect data.
Iran says it wants to put its own satellites into orbit to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone nation and improve telecommunications. Iranian officials also point to U.S. use of satellites to monitor Afghanistan and Iraq and say they need similar security abilities.
Iran launched its first commercial satellite on a Russian rocket in 2005 in a joint project with Moscow, which appears to be the main partner in transferring space technology to Iran.
2. Iran Clarifies Bomb-Grade Uranium Traces to IAEA
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A pending U.N. watchdog report will say Iran has resolved questions about traces of bomb-grade uranium found at atomic research sites, moving an inquiry into Tehran's nuclear past towards completion, diplomats said.
But they said it appeared Iran would not be forthcoming enough to settle one remaining weighty issue -- alleged links between uranium processing, high explosives tests and missile design -- in time for the report, due between February 20 and 22.
Big powers welcome the watchdog's progress in uncovering Iran's past covert work. But they worry more about the present -- Tehran testing advanced centrifuges that would allow it to enrich uranium faster and acquire the means to build atom bombs.
They have drafted wider U.N. sanctions against Iran, citing its curbs on inspections hampering efforts to verify its nuclear work has no military dimensions, and its continued defiance of U.N. Security Council orders to suspend the work to win trust.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei has said he has made "good progress" in resolving outstanding issues. Security Council members are expected to scrutinize the details in his report before finalizing the new sanctions text.
Diplomats familiar with IAEA investigations said Iran had clarified how and why particles of highly enriched uranium (HEU) turned up in inspections at Tehran's technical university and physics research centre.
They declined to give details of their reasoning but some analysts believe the report could say that the highly enriched uranium came from outside the country rather than from Iranian attempts to build a bomb.
In a separate earlier case, the IAEA accepted Iranian statements that HEU traces detected in environmental sampling by inspectors came with equipment obtained from a Pakistani-led nuclear smuggling network broken up a few years ago.
"But the important issue is not so much what Iran did in the past but what it's doing now and might do in future," Mark Fitzpatrick, chief non-proliferation expert at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, said.
"To be able to detect future clandestine enrichment, the IAEA needs unrestricted access across the country and to be able to conduct widespread environmental sampling," he told Reuters.
Diplomats said Iran had not lived up to a January vow to cooperate enough for the IAEA to end the inquiry in February by addressing fears it tried to "weaponize" nuclear materials.
U.S. intelligence given to inspectors in 2005 pointed to Iranian work on uranium processing, explosives tests and research on a missile warhead design under military supervision, a connection Iran has rejected as propaganda.
A senior IAEA official said on Tuesday inspectors needed more time to share the findings with Iran and gets its response.
A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) said in December that Iran shelved a clandestine weapons program in 2003.
But the NIE also said Iran would gradually acquire the latent capability to assemble nuclear weapons through its considerable expansion of enrichment activities since then.
A new centrifuge Iran is testing could refine uranium 2-3 times quicker than the erratic old model now on line in its Natanz enrichment hall, diplomats have told Reuters.
"(This is) deeply disturbing ... It seems to us that the proper response here would be a third sanctions resolution and that resolution is on the table," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
Tehran says it wants to refine uranium only to the low level needed for electricity so it can export more of its oil wealth. Its declared enrichment sites are under regular IAEA monitoring.
There are indications of new Iranian transparency about its current program after Tehran for the first time let top IAEA officials visit an advanced centrifuge workshop last month.
Hitherto ElBaradei has spoken darkly of "diminishing knowledge" about the program due to limits on IAEA access.
The United Nations' chief nuclear watchdog provided a singularly bleak vision of a world "in disarray" Saturday, warning that the most imminent threat is not a new nation joining the nuclear club, but deadly material falling into the hands of extremists.
The specter of nuclear terrorism is not a new theme for International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who has been managing the standoff over Iran's nuclear program for six years, but his language was particularly gloomy at a security conference of international leaders here.
"Is the world in disarray? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. The world is in disarray," he said. "The world is going through a period of insecurity and instability; I think we all agree on that. All you have to do is look at what we go through here and at the airport -- it's awful the life we have to go through at times."
ElBaradei, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for his work on Iran, drew a picture of a world wrestling with the details of one nation's nuclear quest amid a much larger threat of nuclear catastrophe brought on by poverty, political humiliation and the failure of the world's most powerful countries to move swiftly to nuclear disarmament.
"We still live in a world where we have 2 billion who live on under $2 a day, one-third of our fellow beings. . . . We have 20,000 people who die every day because they are too poor to live. The sanctity of human life -- are we really serious about the sanctity of human life?" ElBaradei told an audience of presidents, prime ministers, defense ministers and top diplomats from Europe and the United States.
He warned of the danger of nuclear material falling into the hands of extremist groups, nurtured on "anger, humiliation and desperation" in the Middle East or elsewhere.
He said the IAEA each year is handling 150 cases of illicit trafficking of nuclear material. Some material that is reported stolen is never recovered, he said, and conversely, "a lot of the material recovered has never been reported stolen."
"This, to me, is the most danger we are facing today. Because any country, even if they have nuclear weapons, would continue to have a rational approach," he said. "They know if they use a nuclear weapon, they will be pulverized. For an extremist group, there is no concept of deterrence. If they have it, they will use it."
ElBaradei suggested that it is difficult to get up-and-coming nations to take nonproliferation responsibilities seriously when the existing members of the nuclear club, who long ago committed to the principle of gradual nuclear disarmament, not only maintain large stockpiles, but keep them locked and loaded.
In today's world, where nuclear capability means power, he said, "you don't really even need to have a nuclear weapon."
"It's enough to buy yourself an insurance policy by developing the capability, and then sit on it. Let's not kid ourselves -- 90% of it is insurance, a deterrence.
"It's not sustainable," he said. "The nuclear technology is out of the tube, completely out of the tube. We have seen now that any country with an average industrial infrastructure can develop the know-how to develop a nuclear weapon. . . . We have to show the way that we are making good on our commitment to move toward nuclear disarmament."
1. US General says Pakistan Nukes Safe Despite Rising Militancy
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The chief of the US military said that Pakistan's atomic weapons were secure despite rising Islamic militancy in the nuclear-armed South Asian country.
Admiral Mike Mullen told reporters after talks with President Pervez Musharraf and army chief Ashfaq Kayani that his discussions focused on the security situation in the region.
As the general spoke, a suspected suicide bombing killed at least 20 people and injured about two dozen others at an election rally in northwest Pakistan, a hotbed of Islamic militancy.
"Certainly the threat is going up. We are both concerned about that. Certainly in my meetings today, all the leadership expressed concern about being able to eliminate that threat over time," Mullen said.
But he added: "I am very comfortable that the nuclear weapons are secure and that proper procedures are in place. I am not concerned that they are going to fall into the hands of any terrorists."
Mullen also ruled out direct US intervention to deal with the Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants who he said had found safe havens in the country's rugged tribal region.
Pakistan has reacted angrily to suggestions that US forces based in Afghanistan could carry out operations in Pakistan's troubled tribal areas, branded a safe haven for Al-Qaeda militants.
"I give no credence to the notion that the United States could in any way, shape or form invade or attack Pakistan," said Mullen, on his first visit to Pakistan since assuming command in October.
He also said he was not aware of any intelligence report that Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership was operating from Pakistani territory -- the claim made by an unidentified US official in a media briefing in Washington Friday.
"I am not aware that it is a fact at all," Mullen said.
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