UNITED NATIONS – Israel is concerned that Iran will use the current climate of international goodwill as a cover to pursue its goal of becoming a nuclear power, an Israeli minister said Friday.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom made the comment on the day that Iran announced it was still studying a U.N.-drafted plan to ship much of its uranium to Russia and France for further enrichment, a move seen as a way to delay the country's ability to build a nuclear weapon. Iran's envoy to the U.N. nuclear agency said the government will respond to the offer next week.
Shalom, who is also the minister for regional development, said he discussed Iran's nuclear ambitions with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a discussion that also included Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects and Lebanon.
"I told the secretary-general that we were very concerned that Iran will use the goodwill of the international community to continue to develop their real intentions — and it is toward nuclear power on the one end but on the other end to try to change the types of the regimes within the Middle East," he said.
The six world powers trying to ensure that Iran's nuclear program remains peaceful held talks earlier this month with Iranian diplomats, despite a spike in tensions over September's revelations by Iran that it had been secretly building a new uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom.
The meeting — and tentative agreement on the plan to ship out much of Iran's low-enriched uranium — indicated a willingness on both sides to talk.
But Israel, which has been threatened with annihilation by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is clearly unhappy.
"We believe that Iran will never abandon their dream to become a nuclear power," Shalom said. "They hide their real intentions in the past, and they will do it in the future."
He singled out the recent disclosure about the nuclear facility at Qom.
"We know about many other things that they are trying to do," he said. "They are trying to buy all the items that are needed in order to develop nuclear power. They are doing it while they are always lying about ... their real intentions."
The Vienna-brokered plan would require Iran to send 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium — around 70 percent of its stockpile — to Russia in one batch by the end of the year for further enrichment and then to France to be converted into fuel rods, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said on Thursday. Those fuel rods would be returned for use in a research reactor in Tehran.
Shalom expressed concern about what Iran would do before the date the uranium would be sent to Russia, which he said was Jan. 15.
"We are very concerned from the possibility that Iran will try once again to develop its nuclear power while there is no inspection, or inspectors, or supervision of the international community," he said.
Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons though the government has never confirmed it is a nuclear power, and Shalom was asked whether Israel would agree to making the Middle East a nuclear weapon-free zone.
"We are in a situation where we have to protect ourself from those who are trying to kill us," he replied.
"If Iran will abandon its dream to have ... nuclear power, it will bring more stability to the region because first and foremost those who are very, very concerned are Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey," he added.
Shalom accused the Iranians of "trying to undermine the regimes of the moderate Arab countries," citing the discovery of "a terrorist cell" of Hezbollah militants, backed by Iran, in Egypt a few months ago.