At least 30 people were killed and 800 injured today when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck near Iran’s only nuclear power plant.
Officials said that work at the Bushehr site was unaffected by the quake which was felt as far away as Dubai, across the Strait of Hormuz, and in Qatar. The earthquake comes as pressure mounts on Tehran over its nuclear programme, which most of the international community says is bent on developing a nuclear weapon but which Iranian officials insist is designed only for peaceful purposes.
The Red Cross has said two villages close to the plant – Shanbe and Sana, which both have populations are about 2,000 - had been badly damaged, but the Russian company that built the Bushehr plant said the reactor was undamaged.
An Iranian official, who spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity, said the earthquake had been felt at the nuclear site, but said: “I don't think anything happened to the Bushehr power plant as it happened outside Bushehr city.” It is thought that the plant is about 20km away from the two villages.
“The earthquake in no way affected the normal situation at the reactor. Personnel continue to work in the normal regime and radiation levels are fully within the norm,” Russian state news agency RIA quoted an official at the company, Atomstroyexport, as saying.
The quake came as John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, was in Jerusalem for talks with Benjamin Netanyahu about the Israel-Palestinian peace process and Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Speaking after the meeting, Mr Kerry, said that, “Iran cannot have and will not have a nuclear weapon”.
There was little new of substantive progress on the peace process. Mr Kerry said today that the most recent talks had focussed on “some economic initiative”, but that both he and Mr Netanyahu agreed that “the political track is first and foremost; other things may happen to supplement it.”
America’s leading diplomat was clear on Iran, however. “The United States of America has made clear that we stand not just with Israel, but with the entire international community in making it clear that we are serious [about not allowing Iran to develop a nuclear weapon], we are open to negotiation, but it is not an open-ended, endless negotiation,” he said.
The comments come after two days of talks between world powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions broke up without resolution at the weekend.
Mr Kerry was not the only foreign official in Israel for talks on Iran today. Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, held talks with Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who on Sunday said that Iran should face military action within, “a few weeks, a month” if there is no progress in talks. Like most officials in Israel, Mr Steinitz believes that the West should lead any military action.
Later this month, the new US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel will visit Jerusalem for talks with his opposite number, the Moshe Ya’alon.