Mohammed ElBaradei, director general of the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency, told the BBC that countries with nuclear weapons were perceived and treated differently than countries without such an arsenal.
"It is my gut feeling that Iran would like to have the technology to enable it to have nuclear weapons," ElBaradei said in the interview published Tuesday. "They want to send a message to their neighbors, to the rest of the world, 'Don't mess with us.'"
"But the ultimate aim of Iran, as I understand it, is they want to be recognized as a major power in the Middle East," he said.
In broader terms, ElBaradei said the greater threat was the possibility of an extremist group getting a hold of a nuclear weapon, because the idea of deterrence doesn't apply.
The only safe future, he told the British broadcaster, was nuclear disarmament led by existing nuclear powers that, between them, have 27,000 atomic warheads.