DUBAI (Reuters) - A report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog that accused Iran of doubling the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges it has in an underground bunker was politically motivated, an Iranian lawmaker said on Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Thursday indicated that despite threat of an Israeli or U.S. military strike on Tehran’s nuclear facilities, the Islamic Republic was rapidly increasing the enrichment capacity of its Fordow site, buried deep underground to withstand any such hit.
“Publishing this report while Iran is holding the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) meeting does not mean anything other than it was a political move aimed at overshadowing the meeting in Tehran,” lawmaker Kazem Jalali told the ISNA news agency.
Major powers accuse Iran of trying to build bombs under cover of a civilian nuclear programme. Tehran denies this, saying it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.
“It seems that this report is a scenario for psychological warfare because Iran was able to show its authority and international position at the NAM summit,” said Jalali, a member of parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee.
Iran has portrayed its hosting of the summit of the 120-nation group of developing nations as proof that Western efforts to isolate it for its disputed nuclear programme have failed.
The IAEA’s quarterly report on Iran said buildings had been demolished and earth removed at a military site the agency wants to inspect, in what Western diplomats see as an effort by Tehran to remove any evidence of illicit nuclear-linked tests.
Based on the report, the number of centrifuges at Fordow, near the holy Shi‘ite Muslim city of Qom, about 130 km (80 miles) from Tehran, had more than doubled to 2,140 from 1,064 in May. The new machines were not yet operating, it said.
During his speech at the NAM summit on Thursday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran’s nuclear programme was entirely peaceful. “Our motto is nuclear energy for all and nuclear weapons for none,” he said.
But the expansion in enrichment infrastructure and the stockpiles of nuclear material revealed in the IAEA’s report will do nothing to ease international concerns or reduce the diplomatic and sanctions pressure on Iran.
Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, conduit for more than a third of the world’s sea-borne oil trade, in response to increasingly harsh sanctions by the United States and its allies intended to force it to curb its nuclear work. (Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Alistair Lyon)