Former Iranian Negotiator Challenges Hagel over Biased Speech

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A former Iranian negotiator attending an annual international security forum criticized US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel for his anti-Iran rants in the gathering, saying the American official did not dare to make a slight reference to the Israeli regime’s threat to the region.

Former Iranian Negotiator Challenges Hagel over Biased Speech

Speaking at an annual international security forum known as the Manama Dialogue in the Bahraini capital on Saturday, Hagel emphasized that an emerging global agreement that would limit Iran's nuclear program did not mean the security threat from Iran was over.

His comments came after Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - Russia, China, France, Britain and the US - plus Germany sealed an interim deal on November 24 that both sides hope could open the way for the permanent resolution of Iran's nuclear standoff.

The deal is intended to allow time to negotiate a comprehensive agreement on the nuclear program.

“I am under no illusions, like all of you, about the daily threats facing this region, or the current anxieties that I know exist here in the (Persian) Gulf,” Hagel told the conference.

“These anxieties have emerged as the United States pursues diplomatic openings on some of the region's most difficult problems and most complex issues, including Iran's nuclear program and the conflict in Syria.”

He said the interim deal was just a first step that has bought time for meaningful negotiations, adding that “all of us are clear-eyed, very clear-eyed about the challenges that remain” to reaching a nuclear solution with Iran.

He further pointed to the ongoing plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons, and said Barack Obama's threat to strike Syria after a chemical weapons attack, believed by the White House to be the work of the Syrian government, led to the ultimate deal to remove and destroy the arsenal.

Thereafter, Hagel was challenged at one point during a question-and-answer session by a former Iranian negotiator over why his address failed to credit Tehran for helping to remove the threat of chemical weapons in Syria, and why the US didn't admonish Israel over its chemical weapons.

Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator, who is now a scholar at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, told Hagel he “didn't mention a single word about the major threat of nuclear bombs in the region, which is Israel.”

“The US has orchestrated the most pressure in a decade against Iran, while Iran does not have a single nuclear bomb,” Mousavian said.

Hagel replied by noting that Iran is in violation of “many United Nations resolutions.”

Israel is widely understood to possess nuclear weapons but declines to confirm or deny it under the policy of nuclear ambiguity. It has refused to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and been the only obstacle in the way of realization of a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East.

Most experts estimate that Israel has between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, largely based on information leaked to the Sunday Times newspaper in the 1980s by Mordechai Vanunu, a former worker at the country's Dimona nuclear reactor.

And former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert alluded to Israel's nuclear weapons arsenal in comments in December 2006, a week after then US Defence Secretary Robert Gates used a similar form of words during a Senate hearing.

In May 2008, ex-US President Jimmy Carter said Israel had at least 150 atomic weapons in its arsenal.

Israel is believed to have developed an offensive biological warfare capability. The US Congress Office of Technology Assessment records Israel as a country possessing a long-term, undeclared biological warfare program. Israel is not a signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).

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