President Ahmadinejad has denounced as an American government forgery a secret nuclear document unearthed by The Times, as the top general in the United States warned that military force could not be ruled out against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Confronted with a copy of the Times document during an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, the Iranian President waved it aside, refusing to look. “No, I don’t want to see this kind of document,” Mr Ahmadinejad said. “These are some fabricated papers issued by the American Government.”
It was the first public comment by the Iranian leader on the two-page document since its existence was revealed a week ago.
Nuclear experts say that the papers, which detail a plan to test a neutron initiator, one of the final components of a nuclear bomb, may be one of the strongest indications yet of a continuing nuclear weapons programme in Iran.
Ahmadinejad refused to address the question of whether Iran had worked on the device, the trigger for a nuclear bomb, dismissing Western claims of a military dimension to the country’s nuclear programme. “I think that some of the claims about our nuclear issue have turned into a repetitive and tasteless joke,” he said.
Tehran insists that its programme is for the production of civilian nuclear energy, despite anomalies, such as its lack of nuclear power stations and the recent revelation of a secret uranium enrichment plant in Qom that inspectors say is inconsistent with the declared civilian programme.
Responding to Mr Ahmadinejad’s accusations of fakery, David Axelrod, the senior White House adviser, said: “Of course, that’s nonsense. Listen, nobody has any illusions about what the intent of the Iranian Government is and we have given them an opportunity to prove otherwise by allowing them to ship their nuclear material out to be reprocessed for peaceful use.
“And they have passed on that deal so far and the international community is going to have to deal with that if they don’t change their minds.”
The revelations in The Times have increased the pressure on Iran to co-operate with the international community days before an end-of-year deadline for Tehran to demonstrate good faith or face new sanctions from the United Nations Security Council or, failing that, a powerful coalition of Western allies.
Western countries are also anxious to stop Israel taking matters into its own hands and launching military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities that could do little to hamper the overall programme, while bringing further instability to the region.
Israel’s stance has helped to push the Iranian regime and opposition leaders into a ferocious competition over who is more committed to the nuclear programme.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the US Joint Chief of Staff, who has been instrumental in persuading Israel not to strike, told his staff that military force must remain an option against Iran even though it would have only a limited effect in stopping the regime developing nuclear weapons.
“My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results,” Admiral Mullen wrote in an annual assessment of the nation’s risks and priorities for his staff. “However, should the President call for military options, we must have them ready.”
In the past two or three years the US had all but ruled out an attack on Iran’s known nuclear facilities as too risky because of the potential consequences. UN inspectors and Western intelligence agencies suspect Iran of concealing other, as yet unknown nuclear sites, making an attempt to destroy them all but impossible.
Admiral Mullen and other military leaders have also suggested that if Iran were determined to build a weapon, an attack would probably fail to stop that effort completely.
Experts agree that it is not yet clear whether Iran wants to build a weapon or merely achieve nuclear latency, the ability to assembly a weapon at short notice, in effect giving it a nuclear deterrent.