iran - Reuters - November 17 2011
Iranian leaders attending the funerals of the 17 people killed in a blast at an army base outside Tehran on Saturday. Photo by Reuters
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Iran reiterated yesterday that the explosion at a military base near Tehran that killed 17 members of the Revolutionary Guards was an accident. It says that contrary to media speculation, the blast, which also killed a missile expert, was not carried out by Israel or the United States.

"Whatever the enemies say about the IRGC base incident is fiction and therefore not important," Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told Fars news agency.

But Time Magazine and other Western media quoted a Western intelligence official saying "don't believe the Iranians" and speculating that Israel was behind the Saturday blast in an ammunition depot at a base west of Tehran.

According to the British newspaper The Guardian, an Iranian source said the explosion was not an accident but the act of a foreign intelligence organization.

Media reports have focused on Gen. Hassan Moqaddam, a high-ranking IRGC commander and chief of the logistic research unit, who was killed in the blast. Moqaddam was involved in Iran's missile program.

A number of senior Iranian officials, including Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attended Moqaddam's funeral. In an unusual move, pictures from the funeral were broadcast on Iranian television.

Iran's Shahab-3 and Zelzal missiles reportedly can reach any part of Israel. Iran has repeatedly warned that if its nuclear sites were attacked by Israel, its missiles would be used against Israel.

While praising Moqaddam as "one of the shining members of the IRGC," Larijani said that "there are tens of thousands who would continue the way of martyr Moqaddam."

Hassan Firouzabadi, the chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, also denied yesterday that Israel was involved in the blast.

"This recent ... blast has no link to Israel or America but [is] the outcome of the research of which the incident happened as a consequence," Firouzabadi was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will host a forum next week among its member states, including Israel and Arab countries, to consider setting up a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

Iran, which was asked in September whether it would attend, has not yet replied and is unlikely to take part, said diplomatic sources at the agency's headquarters in Vienna.

The forum, initiated by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, is part of the agency's efforts in recent years to persuade Israel to open its nuclear facilities to IAEA supervision and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The idea of a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East came from Arab states headed by Egypt, which have been raising this demand at every international forum for years.

The forum in Vienna next week will consider the experience of the five existing nuclear-weapons-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central Asia.

Today the IAEA governors are to start debating the agency's report last week on Iran's nuclear arms program. The United States and its Western allies are urging the IAEA to issue a strongly worded statement that would advance their demand for harsher sanctions on Iran in the UN Security Council.

But such a resolution is doubtful due to the Russian and Chinese opposition in the Security Council.

With reporting by Reuters