Iran agrees to discuss detonator use, but says ballistics program off limits

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A picture obtained from Iran's ISNA news agency shows IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards, Tero Varjoranta, right, and Iran's new ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Reza Najafi shaking hands after reaching an agreement, in Tehran on February 9, 2014. (Photo: AFP /ISNA - Amir Pourmand)

Published Monday, February 10, 2014

Iran's promise to clarify its use of detonators marks only an initial step by Tehran to address long-standing allegations of past nuclear weapons research, the UN atomic watchdog said Monday.

However, Iran’s deputy foreign minister said in a statement that the country's ballistic missile program will not be discussed in nuclear negotiations with world powers.

"This is the first step that is taking place now," International Atomic Energy Agency chief inspector Tero Varjoranta told reporters at Vienna airport after returning from Iran.

"There is still a lot of outstanding issues so now we are starting on the PMD," he said, referring to alleged "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear activities, mostly before 2003.

On Sunday, Iran and the IAEA agreed a new seven-step plan to increase transparency, including a pledge by Iran to provide "information and explanations for the Agency to assess Iran's stated need or application for the development of Exploding Bridge Wire detonators."

These detonators, known as EBW's, can have "non-nuclear applications", noted IAEA said in a November 2011 report, but mostly they are used in weapons research and therefore Iran's stated development of them "is a matter of concern."

Remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who is also Iran's lead negotiator in talks with world powers, came a week before negotiations were to resume on a comprehensive accord over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

"Iran's defense-related issues are not up for negotiations," Araqchi said, according to media reports.

"We will not discuss any issue other than the nuclear dossier in the negotiations," he added.

US lead negotiator in the talks, Wendy Sherman, last week told a Senate hearing that Iran's ballistic missile program would be addressed in the comprehensive deal.

"The defense-related issues are a red line for Iran. We will not allow such issues to be discussed in future talks," said Araqchi.

Western nations and Israel have long suspected Iran of covertly pursuing nuclear weapons alongside its civilian program, allegations denied by Tehran.

Tehran insists its program - boasting long-range missiles with a maximum range of 2,000 kilometers, enough to reach Israel - is an integral part of its defense doctrine.

It also denies ever seeking atomic weapons, saying its nuclear activities are for peaceful medical and energy purposes.

Iran struck an interim nuclear deal with world powers in November under which it agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear work in exchange for the release of billions of dollars in frozen assets and limited relief from crippling sanctions.

Talks on a comprehensive nuclear agreement are due to resume on February 18 in Vienna.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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