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Iran not seeking atomic bomb, says supreme leader after unsuccessful IAEA visit

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Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted on Wednesday that his country is not seeking an atomic weapon, following an unsuccessful visit to Tehran by U.N. nuclear watchdog officials.

“We are not after an atomic weapon. We want to break the supremacy (of the world powers) that relies on nuclear weapons. God willing, the nation will reach this goal,” he told a meeting with Iranian nuclear scientists, according to an official government statement.

“Despite what the enemy (the West) says, nuclear energy is directly linked to our national interests,” Khamenei said, urging the scientists to “continue the important and substantial” nuclear work.

Khamenei’s reiteration of Iran’s longheld stance came after a five-strong delegation from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency left Tehran empty-handed following two days of talks focused on suspected military aspects of Iran’s nuclear program.

The White House, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that Iran had made no progress in its dealings with U.N. nuclear inspectors, branding the fruitless visit a “failure” on Tehran’s part.

“We regret the failure of Iran to reach an agreement with the IAEA,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. “It’s another demonstration of Iran’s refusal to abide by its international obligations.”

The U.N. nuclear inspector heading the team, Herman Nackaerts, said on his return to Vienna the Iranians had not permitted the team to visit a military site in Parchin where apparently non-peaceful activities had been detected.

He also said “we could not formalize the way forward,” signaling that the delegation left with no further talks scheduled.

The IAEA named Parchin in a detailed report in November that lent independent weight to Western fears that Iran was working to develop an atomic bomb, an allegation Iranian officials reject.

The IAEA delegation was to submit its new report, “then we will have to see what are the next steps,” Nackaerts said.

The outcome seems likely to add to already soaring tension between Iran and Western powers, which have ratcheted up sanctions on the major oil producer in recent months.

No agreement, no further discussions

Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, was quoted by the Iranian news agency ISNA as saying Tuesday that the talks had been intensive and covered “cooperation and mutual understanding” between the two sides.

Soltanieh added that Tehran expected to hold more talks soon.

But IAEA spokeswoman, Gill Tudor, made clear no further meetings were planned: “At this point in time there is no agreement on further discussions,” she said.

Iran rejects accusations that its nuclear program is a covert bid to develop a nuclear weapons capability, saying it is seeking to produce only electricity.

But its refusal to curb sensitive atomic activities which can have both civilian and military purposes, and its track record of years of nuclear secrecy has drawn increasingly tough U.N. and separate U.S. and European punitive measures.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out using force against Iran if they conclude diplomacy and sanctions will not stop it from developing a nuclear bomb.

Military nuclear technology

Last year’s IAEA report suggesting Iran had pursued military nuclear technology helped precipitate the latest rounds of European Union and U.S. sanctions, which are causing economic hardship in Iran ahead of a parliamentary election in March.

One key finding was information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin southeast of Tehran in which to conduct high-explosives tests, which the U.N. agency said were “strong indicators of possible weapon development.”

The IAEA said intensive efforts were made to reach agreement in the talks on a document “facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues” in connection with Iran’s nuclear program, particularly those relating to possible military dimensions.

“Unfortunately, agreement was not reached on this document,” it said in an unusually blunt statement.

In interviews late last week, diplomats told The Associated Press that Iran is poised to install thousands of new-generation centrifuges at the cavernous facility. That would mean that Iran would have the capability of enriching to weapons-grade level much more quickly and efficiently that with its present, less efficient mainstay machines.

The IAEA mission’s lack of progress may also have an impact on the chances of any resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six world powers, the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.

The West last week expressed some optimism at the prospect of new talks, particularly after Iran sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton promising to bring “new initiatives”, without stating preconditions.

But the United States and its allies may become more reluctant if they feel that the Islamic state is unlikely to engage in substantive discussions about its nuclear activities.

The deputy head of Iran’s armed forces was quoted on Tuesday as saying Iran would take pre-emptive action against its enemies if it felt its national interests were endangered.

“Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,” Mohammed Hejazi told the Fars news agency.

Staging war games

The comments came as Iran announced it was staging war games to practice protecting nuclear and other sensitive sites, the latest military maneuver viewed as a message to the U.S. and Israel that the Islamic Republic is ready both to defend itself and to retaliate against an armed strike, according to AP.

The official news agency IRNA said the four-day air defense war games, dubbed “Sarallah,” or “God’s Revenge,” were taking place in the south of the country and involve anti-aircraft batteries, radar, and warplanes. The drill will be held over 73,000 square miles (190,000 square kilometers) near the port of Bushehr, the site of Iran’s lone nuclear power plant.

Iran has held multiple air, land, and sea maneuvers in recent months as tensions increase, while at the same time continuing to deny any interest in nuclear weapons. It asserts that the allegations of secret work on developing such arms are based on fabricated U.S. and Israeli intelligence.

In retaliation for oil sanctions, Iran, the world’s fifth-largest crude exporter, has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, conduit for a third of the world’s seaborne oil, while the United States signaled it would use force to keep it open.

The White House said there was still time for diplomacy.

“Israel and the United States share the same objective, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said when asked about a weekend visit to Israel by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.

Iran, whose economy has been hit hard by the recent ramping up of sanctions, denies wanting nuclear weapons, insisting its program, including the enrichment of uranium, is for producing energy and treating cancer patients.