VIENNA // Iran's nuclear chief warned yesterday that "terrorists and saboteurs" might have infiltrated the International Atomic Energy Agency in an effort to derail his country's atomic programme.
Fereydoun Abbasi also rebuked the United States in comments to the IAEA's 55-nation general conference, reflecting Iran's determination to continue defying international pressure aimed at curbing its nuclear programme and nudging it towards cooperation with the IAEA inspection.
As such, the speech was bound to give a greater voice to hardline Israel leaders who say that both diplomatic efforts and economic penalties have failed to move Iran, leaving military strikes as the only alternative to stopping it from developing nuclear weapons.
His comments came as the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced plans to meet Iran's chief nuclear negotiator today, Ms Ashton's office said yesterday, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a political solution was still possible in the stand-off.
Tehran denies seeking nuclear arms and Mr Abbasi, an Iranian vice president whom the agency suspects may have been involved in nuclear weapons research, again insisted that his country's nuclear program is aimed only at making reactor fuel and medical research.s
Tehran has long dismissed suspicions that it may re-engineer its uranium enrichment program from making reactor fuel to producing nuclear warheads and says accusations that it has worked secretly on nuclear arms are based on fabricated US and Israeli intelligence. It also frequently accuses the IAEA of anti-Iran bias in its push to ensure that all of Tehran's nuclear activities are peaceful.
But Mr Abbasi's comments yesterday were the harshest to date on the agency itself.
"Terrorists and saboteurs might have intruded the agency and might be making decisions covertly," he said. Citing what he said was an example of sabotage last month at an underground enrichment plant, he said IAEA inspectors arrived shortly after power lines were blown up to inspect the premises.
"Does this visit have any connection to that detonation?" he said.