February 16, 2005
TEHRAN, Iran - The United States has been flying spy drones over Iran’s nuclear sites, Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said Wednesday, commenting for the first time on media reports of U.S. unmanned surveillance craft over Iran.
"Most of the shining objects that our people see over Iran’s airspace are American spying equipment used to spy on Iran’s nuclear and military facilities,” the minister said.
His remarks to reporters backed up a report in Sunday’s Washington Post that quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying the drones have been flying over Iran for nearly a year to seek evidence of nuclear weapons programs.
“U.S. spying activities over Iranian airspace have been going since a long time ago,” Yunesi said.
The Iranian air force was ordered in December to shoot down any unknown or suspicious flying objects in Iran’s airspace. At the time, there were reports in Iranian newspapers that spying devices had been found in a pilotless planes that had been shot down.
“If any of the bright objects come close, they will definitely meet our fire. We possess the necessary equipment to confront them,” Yunesi said.
Last month, Yunesi said that the United States had been conducting aerial surveillance, but he neither mentioned drones nor nuclear and military sites.
Iranian media has been gripped by a kind of “flying object” fever with dozens of reported sightings in recent weeks. State-run media has reported numerous sightings of unknown objects flying over parts of Iran where nuclear facilities are located.
Yunesi denied allegations by Washington that Tehran was secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear activities are for generating electricity.
“Our nuclear and military activities are transparent. We have nothing to hide,” he said.
Israel: Iran will know how to build bomb in
Meantime, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Wednesday that Iran is six months away from having the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb.
“The question is not if the Iranians will have a nuclear bomb in 2009, 10 or 11, the main question is when are they going to have the knowledge to do it. We believe that in six months from today they will end all the tests and experiments they are doing to have that knowledge,” Shalom said on a visit to London.
Iran has warned it would both retaliate and accelerate its drive to master nuclear technology if the United States or Israel attacked its atomic facilities.
Israel, believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power, has hinted it could hit Iran militarily to stop it getting the bomb.
“They are trying very hard to develop the nuclear bomb. This kind of extreme regime with a nuclear bomb is a nightmare, not only for us,” Shalom told reporters.
The chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency said in January that Iran was on the brink of enriching uranium, a process key to building a nuclear bomb.
“Iran is involved in many terrorist attacks in our region,” Shalom said. “We should do everything to isolate the hardliners and empower the moderates.”
France, Britain and Germany have tried in talks with Iran to persuade the oil-rich country to drop its nuclear fuel-making program in return for economic incentives.