Wed, May 28, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iranian opposition says Tehran enriches uranium

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

An Iranian group said Monday that it had evidence of two previously undisclosed uranium-enrichment facilities west of Tehran -- information that, if proved, might add to the Bush administration's argument that Iran is violating its commitment not to produce nuclear weapons.

The group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella for anti-Iranian government organizations, said the facilities were two small laboratories that operate as satellite plants to a larger nuclear facility in Natanz, in central Iran. The group said the facilities were discovered by the People's Mujahedeen, a resistance group that brought the Natanz plant to the attention of international weapons inspectors.

"The Iranian regime is working on other outlets to circumvent international supervision and international monitoring," a council official, Ali Safavi, said in an interview.

He said one site had already installed several centrifuges for processing uranium, and he called on international inspectors to scrutinize the facilities.

"This organization has been extremely on the mark in the past," said a senior UN official who is familiar with the situation in Iran, adding, "They are a group that seems to be privy to very solid and insider information."

However, People's Mujahedeen has stirred some controversy within the Bush administration. In a gesture toward Iran, the administration has classified the organization as a terrorist group. However, US military officials have also signed a cease-fire with People's Mujahedeen fighters based in Iraq.

Iran has insisted that its intention is to make fuel for a civilian nuclear power program. But in recent months US officials have grown increasingly concerned that Iran is developing a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it has signed.

Administration officials are now trying to build international support for an official finding from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the branch of the UN that monitors peaceful nuclear programs.

Safavi said his organization, which planned to make its information public yesterday, had already provided details to the IAEA, whose board is meeting in June at agency headquarters in Vienna, Austria, to review Iran's compliance with the treaty.

A spokeswoman for the agency, Melissa Fleming, declined to comment on the allegations of the People's Mujahedeen.

"We are not commenting at all on the situation in Iran, because we are in the midst of a very sensitive inspection," she said.

"We are going there. We are taking samples and we are doing analysis," she said.

The US State Department also declined comment.

Gary Milhollin, director of The Wisconsin Project, an arms control research group, said, "I think the Bush administration ought to take it seriously."

"They ought to ask the IAEA to ask Iran for either a denial or a confirmation," he said, "and if the Iranians confirm it, then the IAEA ought to ask to be allowed to see both sites."

In the interview on Monday, Safavi said the two laboratories were intended to function as a backup to the Natanz site in case that facility came under military attack.

The two laboratories, Safavi said, are both in the Hasthgerd region, near Karaj, about 40km west of Tehran. He said construction at the sites began in 2000 under strict security.

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