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U.S. Links Iran to Efforts to Torpedo Peace Process

May 09, 1995|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moreover, Iran is "aggressively pursuing an indigenous basis" to produce both enriched uranium and plutonium, the two fuels of nuclear weapons, a U.S. specialist said.

As with past charges, U.S. allies contended that Washington is overrating Iran as an imminent nuclear power. Even private American experts on nuclear proliferation said that so far there is only circumstantial evidence of Iran's intent.

"Iran's pattern of procurement of nuclear technology doesn't make sense for a civilian program. But on the other hand, there doesn't seem to be hard evidence of unambiguous bomb-making activity," said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington.

Iran took some of the punch out of U.S. accusations about its nuclear intent by pledging last week to send spent fuel, which can be used in the production of nuclear weapons, from its Russian-built reactor to Russia.

"It's the usual procedure," said Mohammed Sadegh Ayatollahi, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. "In all our contacts--first with the Germans (who started one reactor during the monarchy) and then with Russia--we assumed that we would give (the fuel) back once it was depleted."

Milhollin said the pledge makes Russia's sale of nuclear reactors "much more palatable strategically."

What still makes Iran's nuclear intentions suspect, according to both U.S. officials and Milhollin, is its huge oil reserves. "Why turn to very expensive alternatives when you have a cheap source of energy in your back yard?" one official asked.

Iran responded that the International Atomic Energy Agency urges nations to diversify their energy sources, with about 20% or 25% generated by nuclear power plants. Iran would need four reactors such as those Russia would build to bring it up to 20%.

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