TEHRAN, Iran - Telegraphing Iran’s negotiating stance entering key talks about its nuclear program in Turkey later this week, Tehran’s chief negotiator is charging that the United States was involved in a cyberattack that he said disrupted a peaceful program aimed at creating nuclear energy, not weapons.
In an exclusive interview with Richard Engel, chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, this week in Tehran, Saed Jalilli said that Iran’s investigation has determined that the U.S. was involved in the cyberattack using the Stuxnet computer worm, a virus which targeted centrifuges used to enrich uranium as part of Iran’s nuclear program.
“I have witnessed some documents that show … their satisfaction in that (the U.S. was involved),” he said.
Jalilli indicated, however, that the cyberattack was not as successful as some media accounts have portrayed it.
“Those who have done that could see now that they were not successful in that and we are following our success,” he said.
Jalilli also fingered Iran’s enemies in deadly attacks against scientists working on Iran’s nuclear program, saying that the killings in Iran followed identification of the scientists in U.N. resolutions involving Iran’s nuclear program.
“We believe that there is a meaningful relation between the U.N. Security Council resolution and these kind of activities,” he said of the attacks, which have killed at least two Iranian scientists.
“It is a big question for the international community, and a big kind of question in that the name of the scientists of a country mentioned in the United Nations council resolution and then following that the terrorists assassinated them.”
Despite the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, Jalilli said he is optimistic that progress can be made at the second round of international talks, which begin Saturday in Istanbul.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is for talk around and on common points … which are accepted by both sides,” he said. “… Therefore we are ready to talk for whatever is important from folks."
The cyberattack and the killings are likely to be discussed by Iran at talks in Istanbul with six major powers over its disputed nuclear activities. The talks follow U.N., U.S., and European Union sanctions imposed last year that target oil and gas sectors vital to the Iranian economy.
In the wide-ranging interview, Jalilli also discussed these aspects of the international row over Iran’s nuclear program:
- He maintained that the international sanctions have not had a serious impact and indicated that Iran will press for their removal at the upcoming talks. “Basically speaking the means of tools of sanctions is something for the old times,” Jalilli said. “… It’s a kind of indication of frustration … and with this view in mind we have invited them to return to the negotiation talks. And we believe that putting aside the wrong approaches and attitudes and adopting and choosing the approach of interacting and engagement with people is the best way to go.”
- He indicated that Iran would not agree to halt the enrichment of uranium – a key process in building a nuclear bomb – and maintained that Iran’s decision to begin producing 20 percent enriched uranium was strictly aimed at “covering our need for medication and isotopes,” to treat between 850,000 and 1 million Iranian cancer patients.
- He insisted that Iran has no interest in obtaining or building nuclear weapons. “We frankly and bluntly mentioned that nuclear weapons are illegitimate and inefficient and they could not help those countries which have the nuclear weapons,” he said. “Those countries and the powers who want to pursue their rights of relying on the nuclear weapons they are backwater nations and countries. … They are not capable of solving their issues and problems. Adding to that they are illegitimate and against humanity.”
- He said Iran has fully cooperated with the International Atomic Energy Agency by opening its nuclear facilities to inspection, rejecting suggestions that the country is operating other secret facilities as part of its effort to build nuclear weapons. “There is no report released by the IAEA, which show(s) that Iran is short coming of cooperation,” he said.