VIENNA (AP) -- Israel on Thursday expressed skepticism of Western hopes that the election of a new Iranian president could reduce tensions over the country's nuclear program, asserting that Tehran remains committed to building nuclear arms.
The Iranian envoy lashed back at a meeting of the U.N nuclear agency, accusing Israel of making "unsubstantiated allegations" about a nonexistent nuclear weapons program meant to divert attention from Israel's own nuclear weapons arsenal.
Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, has said he wants to ease international confrontation over his country's nuclear program, and the United States and other Tehran critics indicated this week that they are hopeful that his words will translate into action.
U.S. envoy Joseph Macmanus urged the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting earlier this week to seize what he called an opportunity opened by Rouhani's more conciliatory rhetoric, though he threatened unspecified diplomatic action if Iran hasn't cooperated by November with the U.N. agency's efforts to probe allegations that Tehran worked on nuclear arms.
Israel is the most outspoken of nations accusing Iran of using its nuclear program to achieve the ability to make weapons. Referring to Iran on Thursday, Israeli delegate Ehud Azoulay said is no "change in their (nuclear) policy," even if the rhetoric coming out of Tehran under Rouhani is more low-key.
"An evil regime," he said, "is about to turn ... (into) a nuclear-armed evil regime."
He was challenged by Iranian envoy Reza Najafi, who said Azoulay's comments were meant to divert attention from Israel's "unwarranted underground nuclear weapon facilities."
Israel is widely believed to have an undeclared atomic arsenal but has never confirmed or denied that status.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.