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In a rare interview with Western media, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran has no need for nuclear weapons, but he did not rule out the possibility that Iran might develop them in the future. The broadcasting of Mr. Ahmadinejad's remarks coincided with a new report, based on previously undisclosed information, that the United Nations' nuclear watchdog has withheld evidence about how close Iran is to making a nuclear bomb.
In excerpts of an interview aired Thursday night on NBC News, Ahmadinejad said that "the enrichment of uranium for peaceful purposes... will never be closed down here in Iran." When interviewer Ann Curry asked whether Iran would ever develop a nuclear weapon, Ahmadinejad said Iran had no need for such weapons.
Curry pressed Ahmadinejad again on the question, noting that "people will remark that you did not say no." He replied, "You can take from this whatever you want, madam." Further excerpts of the interview, which was taped a week previously in Tehran, ran Friday morning. The full interview is to be aired Sunday afternoon.
Ahmadinejad's refusal to rule out Iran building a nuclear weapon comes just a day after President Barack Obama announced plans to scrap the Bush administration's missile shield plan in favor of a new system which would better deal with short- and medium-ranged missiles launched from Iran. President Bush's plan would have placed interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend against long-range Iranian missiles targeting Europe.
Also on Thursday, the Associated Press released a report that experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, believe that Iran is currently capable of building a nuclear weapon. The AP based their report on a confidential document titled "Possible Military Dimension of Iran's Nuclear Program," which was written by senior IAEA officials.
These details add significantly to previous reports on Iran's nuclear capability, as summarized this summer in a Monitor briefing, 'How close is Iran to a bomb?'
The AP writes that two international officials confirmed the authenticity of the document, though they insisted on anonymity because the document was meant only to be seen by top IAEA officials.
The IAEA denied that it was hiding evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, calling such an idea "politically motivated and baseless," Reuters reports. In a statement commenting on the AP story, the IAEA said that it "has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapons programme in Iran."
Reuters also writes that Israel, which has typically been highly vocal about the threat of a nuclear Iran, may be changing its message. Ehud Barak, Israel's minister of defense, said that even if Iran had nuclear weapons, it would not be able to defeat Israel.
Reuters adds that Mr. Netanyahu issued a supportive response to Mr. Barak's comments, saying "I think that what the Defence minister wanted to say, something that I believe, is that the State of Israel will be able to defend itself in any situation."