Iranian leaders and media continued to blame Israel and the U.S. for assassinating another of its nuclear scientists this week, vowing both to press ahead with its nuclear program and to punish those responsible for the killing – calling, specifically, for retaliation against Israel.
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that those behind the killing on Wednesday of the 32-year-old nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan in Tehran would be punished, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday. Roshan was a chemistry expert and a director of the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.
Iran on Friday buried the slain nuclear expert, with State TV showing thousands of people attending Roshan's funeral.
Get the Israel Hayom newsletter sent to your mailbox!
"We will continue our path with strong will ... and certainly we will not neglect punishing those responsible for this act and those behind it," Khamenei was quoted as saying.
"This cowardly terror ... has been designed or helped by the intelligence services of CIA and Mossad and shows that the arrogant powers have reached a dead end in the face of the strong Iranian nation," Khamenei added, according to IRNA.
Khamenei posted a condolence letter on his personal website, saying that Iran's nuclear program "does not depend on any one person," and added that despite the loss of Roshan, "We are going to continue with determination and energy on this path."
The Iranian government also called on the U.N. to condemn the killing of the scientist, calling the event a "terrorist attack."
Several hard-line Iranian newspapers affiliated with the regime in Tehran, also called for retaliation against Israel since Wednesday's killing. The hard-line website Rajanews, meanwhile, said the attacks in Iran were intended to control "Iran's technical achievements" and prevent it from consolidating its role "as a regional power."
The website quotes an unnamed "intelligence source" as saying that Iran is in a good position to retaliate against those responsible for the killings of Iranian scientists over the past two years. Iranian officials have said that Majid Jamali Fashi, who pleaded guilty to killing another nuclear scientist Massoud Ali Mohammadi in January 2010 had received money and training from Israel.
"Iran's reaction will extend beyond the borders and beyond the region," the source told the news site. "None of those who ordered these attacks should feel safe anywhere," the source said, adding that Iran will enter a new era in its "special intelligence operations" against its enemies.
A column in the Kayhan newspaper by Chief Editor Hossein Shariatmadari asked why Iran did not avenge Roshan, a chemistry expert and a director of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, by striking Israel.
"Israeli military chief Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz in his recent remarks spoke about damaging Iran's nuclear program," Shariatmadari wrote. "Assassinations of Israeli military and officials are easily possible."
The day before the attack on Roshan, Gantz was quoted as telling a Knesset panel that 2012 would be a "critical year" for Iran — in part because of "things that happen to it unnaturally."
The calls for vengeance also follow a statement published Wednesday by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard accusing Israel and "its backers in the White House" of being behind the assassination, adding that the scientist's death will not deter, but rather accelerate, Iran's nuclear pursuits.
The provocative hints from Israel reinforced the perception that the killing was part of an organized and clandestine campaign to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions, which the U.S. and its allies suspect are aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
Iran's nuclear confrontation with the West had already been escalating in the weeks before Roshan's killing, with the U.S. tightening sanctions against Tehran, and Iranian officials warning that they would shut a waterway vital to global oil shipping in response.
The Wednesday assassination of Roshan — at least the fourth targeted hit against a member of Iran's nuclear brain trust in two years — heightened tensions even further.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the growing confrontation with Iran on the phone Thursday, but the White House statement did not disclose whether the two discussed the death of the scientist.
The statement from the White House did, however, say that Obama and Netanyahu "discussed recent Iran-related developments," including efforts to hold Iran accountable for failures to meet international obligations.
Netanyahu reportedly told Obama, "The security of Israel dictates that Iran must not be a nuclear power." Concerning negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority taking place in Jordan, Netanyahu said, "In any deal with the Palestinians, security arrangements are of primary concern to Israel."
The Prime Minister's Office denied any link between the phone call and the death of the Iranian scientist.
Speaking to CNN on Thursday, President Shimon Peres also denied an Israeli connection to the killing of the nuclear scientist. Asked if Israel played a role in the death of the professor, Peres replied, "Not to the best of my knowledge."
"I know it is fashionable that whatever wrong happens in Iran, it is the United States and Israel. There is nothing new in this approach," Peres added.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on whether or not Israel had played a role in the assassination. "Obviously we don't speak for any other country, and we had nothing to do with it. This has been expressed by officials at a variety of levels of the U.S. government. And we condemn the violence in Iran," Carney said Thursday. "We're not speaking for any other country when we make statements like that," he said.
Washington is currently involved in an international lobbying effort to win support for new sanctions against Iran's oil industry, which would bar financial institutions from the U.S. market if they do business with Iran's central bank.
Iran has threatened to respond to sanctions by shutting the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic passageway through which about one-sixth of the world's oil passes. Earlier this month Tehran concluded 10 days of naval exercises in the waters off of the strait, and has announced that it plans to hold another set of sea drills in February.
According to a New York Times report published Friday quoting U.S. government officials, the U.S. is using a secret channel of communication to warn Iran that if it closes the strategic Strait of Hormuz it will be crossing a “red line” that will provoke a U.S. response.
U.S. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said over the weekend that in such an event the U.S. would “take action and reopen the strait,” which would probably involve military means, including warships and potential airstrikes.
Dempsey echoed earlier statements by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that there are two red lines that Tehran cannot cross: developing nuclear abilities and closing the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran says it wants to negotiate
Meanwhile, Iran's parliamentary speaker on Thursday said he believed that the standoff over his country's nuclear program can be solved through serious talks. Ali Larijani told a news conference after meeting Turkish leaders in Ankara that Tehran supports the idea of holding further talks in Turkey. Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, recently said he had called on six powers — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — to resume talks.
"I believe all issues can be easily solved through negotiations," Larijani told a news conference. "But this time, we want the talks to be serious, it should not be fake."
Also on Thursday, diplomats said a senior U.N. nuclear agency team will visit Tehran on Jan. 28 with Iran saying it is ready after years of refusal to discuss allegations that it was involved in secret nuclear weapons work.
Diplomats have previously said that International Atomic Energy Agency officials were discussing such a trip with their Iranian counterparts. But before the diplomats' comments Thursday, no date — or indication that Iran was ready to talk about the allegations — had been mentioned.
Like our newsletter? 'Like' our Facebook page!