© Reuters. The well-known Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh can be seen in Iran
From Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran's top leader on Saturday pledged to take revenge for the murder of the Islamic Republic's top nuclear scientist who the West and Israel believed was the architect of a secret Iranian weapons-making program.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's top authority who says Tehran never looked for nuclear weapons, pledged in his statement on Twitter to continue the work of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who died on Friday after a gunman ambushed him in his car near Tehran would have.
The murder, which the Iranian President quickly accused Israel, threatens to spark a new confrontation in the Middle East in the last few weeks of US President Donald Trump's term in office.
It could also complicate President-elect Joe Biden's efforts to revive a detente with Tehran that was forged when he was in Barack Obama's administration. Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 international nuclear pact agreed with Tehran.
Khamenei said on his Twitter post that Iranian officials must take on the task of "prosecuting this crime and punishing its perpetrators and those who ordered it".
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said at a television cabinet meeting that Iran would respond "at the right time".
"Once again, the evil hands of Global Arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries have been stained with the blood of an Iranian son," he said using terms officials use to refer to Israel.
Israel refused to comment on the murder. The White House, Pentagon, State Department and CIA also declined to comment, as did Biden's transition team.
"Do you remember that name"
At least four scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012. Tehran said it was an assassination program that aimed to sabotage its nuclear energy program. Iran has always refused to pursue nuclear weapons, stating that its goals are only peaceful.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported that a car loaded with explosives exploded near Fakhrizadeh's vehicle, causing one of the bombers to spray bullets. The scientist was taken to a nearby hospital where he died.
Fakhrizadeh did not have a public profile, but he was believed to be leading what the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United States nuclear watchdog, and US intelligence agencies thought of the Iranian nuclear weapons program, which was postponed in 2003.
He was the only Iranian scientist named in the IAEA's 2015 "Final Assessment" on unanswered questions about the Iranian nuclear program. It was said that he was monitoring activities "in support of a possible military dimension of the (Iranian) nuclear program".
He was a central figure in a presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 accusing Iran of continuing to search for nuclear weapons. "Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh," Netanyahu said at the time.
US intelligence and the International Atomic Energy Agency believe Iran suspended its coordinated weapons program in 2003.
The IAEA said it had no credible evidence of activities in Iran relevant to the post-2009 development of a nuclear explosive device.
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