World News

Iran denies link to N.Korean arms found in Thailand

TOKYO (Reuters) - Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator on Monday denied Tehran was linked to weapons seized in Thailand this month from a plane travelling from North Korea, after reports that their final destination might have been Iran.

There have been growing concerns about North Korea’s close missile cooperation with Iran, which Washington suspects is seeking to build nuclear weapons.

Last week, a high-ranking Thai government security official on a team investigating the arms seized from the impounded plane in Bangkok said the weapons were likely destined for Iran.

“The question that we are after such things is completely baseless and we are not at all after such weapons, let alone bringing in or importing from other countries,” Saeed Jalili told a news conference in Tokyo.

“Our approach is ... completely different from that of North Korea. We seriously oppose nuclear weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

Jalili stressed that Iran, unlike North Korea, is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a global treaty to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Iran is at odds with the West over its declared plans to use enriched uranium to generate electricity, a programme the United States and European allies fear is a cover to develop the ability to produce atomic bombs.

Last week, Iran angered the West by test-firing a missile called the Sejil 2, with a reported range that would put Israel and U.S. Gulf bases within reach.

Earlier on Monday, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told Jalili he was “strongly concerned” about the nuclear situation in Iran and that the international community was very worried about ties between North Korea and Iran, a Japanese foreign ministry official told reporters.

“It is a great shame that a deal on low-enriched uranium has disintegrated into a stand-off,” Okada was quoted by the official as telling Jalili.

“U.S. President (Barack) Obama is thinking of negotiating with Iran and you should not let this chance go by. If you lose this chance, the door may close,” Okada said.

In October, six world powers offered a deal under which Iran would send most of its low-enriched uranium abroad for conversion into fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran.

However, Tehran has backed away from it, raising the prospect of additional sanctions. The United States has set a year-end deadline for Iran to accept the U.N.-drafted deal.

Reporting by Yoko Nishikawa and Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Paul Tait