Exiles: Iran advancing active nuclear arms program (REUTERS) By Nicholas Vinocur and Fredrik Dahl PARIS/VIENNA 05/12/12 2:52pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - An exiled Iranian opposition group said on Saturday that
Iran has some 60 scientists and engineers involved in a concerted and
expanding program to develop nuclear weapons under defense ministry
However, diplomats say the National Council of Resistance of Iran has
had a spotty record with allegations about Iran´s nuclear work since
exposing a secret uranium enrichment plant at Natanz in 2002. A top
U.S. nuclear expert said the NCRI report, like previous ones, should
be treated with great skepticism.
Its latest report, whose details could not be verified, appeared
timed to encourage a tougher line at talks with Iran the U.N. nuclear
watchdog will have in Vienna on Monday and Tuesday and six world
powers will hold in Baghdad on May 23.
But it clashed with the assessment of U.S. and Israeli intelligence
officials that Iran has not decided whether to "weaponries" its
enrichment program. Tehran says it is refining uranium solely for
In the six-page report shown to Reuters, the NCRI cited sources in
the Iranian government and military as saying some 60 scientists were
pursuing bomb-relevant research in 11 agencies operating
clandestinely under defense ministry control.
"Information ... shows that the clerical regime has expanded the
organization responsible for nuclear weapons development," the report
said. "This finding reveals a complete and elaborate, and highly ...
secret research structure and a network for procurement of the
required parts and equipment.
"So far, the identities of 60 directors and experts working in
various parts of the New Defense Research Organization and 11
institutions and companies affiliated with it have been detailed,"
the report went on.
It featured diagrams said to lay out the disguised command structure
and named scientists and engineers involved.
The NCRI, an umbrella bloc of five opposition groups in exile that
seek an end to Shi´ite Muslim clerical rule in Iran, urged the
International Atomic Energy Agency to launch a "robust probe" into
Iran´s nuclear program and all personnel involved.
Iran says it is stockpiling enriched uranium for a future network of
nuclear power plants. But the world´s No. 5 oil exporter has
stonewalled an almost decade-old IAEA investigation into suspected
military dimensions to its atomic activity.
World powers trying to rein in Iran´s nuclear activity via
negotiations want to halt a spiral towards confrontation that has
stoked fear of a new Middle East war, with Israel mooting last-resort
air strikes on the nuclear sites of its arch-enemy.
But Western leaders have rejected Iranian calls for an end to U.N.
sanctions against it as a precondition for any deal.
NO "SMOKING GUN"
In its last quarterly report on Iran issued in February, the IAEA
cited generally credible information indicating Iran had carried out
activities relevant to developing a nuclear explosive, but without
evidence of actual weaponisation.
The NCRI is the political wing of the People´s Mujahideen
Organization of Iran (PMOI), which the United States classifies the
PMOI as a terrorist organization.
David Albright, head of an influential Washington-based think tank
that tracks Iran´s nuclear work and has access to sensitive
intelligence, said "we have to be extremely skeptical of whatever
they (the NCRI) say.
"(They are) an activist group with a huge incentive to say there is a
nuclear weapons program that is making great progress, " Albright
said when asked about the report.
"We know this organization exists," he said, referring to the command
structure cited by the NCRI. "We know the (NCRI) receives
intelligence information from countries so sometimes it is good, but
the trouble is, they fill in details ...(without) evidence. You just
don´t know whether it´s true or not."
Albright said the best available evidence was that Iran "doesn´t have
a structured, coherent, active nuclear weapons program ... Most of
their effort is really focused on developing the capability to make
nuclear explosive material...
"The real bottleneck in their program is the lack of any ability to
make weapons-grade uranium quickly."
Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, which is
Iran´s stated aim, or provide the core for a bomb if enriched to a
much higher degree of fissile purity.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton referred without
qualification to Iran´s "nuclear weapons program" on Friday. But her
language went beyond that of Western security officials who are more
plugged in to Iran´s activities, describing them as an attempt to
advance towards a nuclear weapons capability.
In January, U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper said Iran was
keeping the option open to develop a bomb but U.S. intelligence
agencies did not know whether it would eventually decide to build one.
At the Vienna talks next week, the IAEA will once again try to get
Iran to address suspicions about military aspects to its nuclear
work. Atop the IAEA´s agenda will be gaining access to a military
site that they fear Iran may be "sanitizing" to remove incriminating
evidence of tests relevant to nuclear weapons.
The following week, the six big powers - the United States, Russia,
China, Britain, France and Germany - will seek gestures from Iran
that would evolve into guarantees that it is not after atomic bombs.
These could include much more intrusive IAEA inspections and limits
on Iranian capacity to refine uranium. (Editing by Mark Heinrich) (©
Thomson Reuters 2012. 05/12/12)
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