* Iran will never make nuclear weapon mistake-Soltanieh
* Iran may "stop well short" of atom bomb-Australian ex-FM
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Building nuclear bombs would be a
strategic mistake for Iran, its envoy to the U.N. atomic agency
said on Monday, and a leading Western expert said Tehran should
be taken seriously when it insists it will not obtain such arms.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suggested the Islamic Republic
could never compete in terms of the numbers of warheads
possessed by the nuclear-armed major powers.
It would therefore be at a disadvantage in relation to these
countries if it developed atomic bombs, Soltanieh said.
"That is the reason we will never make this strategic
mistake," he told a conference at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.
"We are as strong as those countries without nuclear weapons."
He was speaking a few days after Iran said it was ready to
resume negotiations with the six powers involved in efforts to
defuse a long-running dispute over its nuclear programme.
The United States and its allies suspect Iran is seeking
nuclear arms capability and wants Tehran to curb its activity.
Iran says its activities are solely aimed at generating
electricity so that it can export more oil and gas.
In September, an IAEA report said Iran was pushing ahead
with its nuclear work in defiance of tougher sanctions
introduced on the major oil exporter in recent months.
It also voiced growing frustration over what the U.N.
nuclear watchdog sees as Tehran's failure to address concerns
about possible military dimensions to its programme.
Soltanieh said Iran had called on the six powers -- the
United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia -- to
come to the negotiating table without preconditions.
Five of them are permanent members of the U.N. Security
Council and recognized nuclear weapons states.
If Iran also decided to acquire such arms, would it ever be
able to compete with them? Soltanieh asked and added: "I can
tell you that 100 percent no ... therefore we would be in a
Gareth Evans, co-chair of an international commission which
last year issued a report on eliminating nuclear threats, told
the same gathering he believed Iran "is to be taken seriously
when it says it will not actually weaponise."
There are "a number of reasons for thinking that Iran will
... stop well short of actually making nuclear weapons that it
may soon have the capability to produce," the former Australian
foreign minister said in a speech.
They included the risk of an Israeli attack, zero Russian
and Chinese tolerance for an Iranian bomb, even tougher
international sanctions and the fact that Islam does not accept
weapons of mass destruction, he said.
"This is not a factor to which Western cynics would give
much credence but I have to say it is echoed very strongly in
every private conversation I've ever had with Iranian
officials," Evans, a veteran diplomatic trouble-shooter, said.
Any agreement on removing sanctions on Iran would need to be
accompanied by it accepting intrusive monitoring and inspection
arrangements, Evans said.
He suggested this could give the international community
about a year in "lead time in which to respond to any evidence
of real intent to move to weaponisation."
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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