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Iran Said to Seek Nuclear Technology in Europe

A British newspaper discloses a European intelligence finding that Tehran is covertly trying to acquire components and knowledge.

January 05, 2006|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — One day after Iran publicly confirmed it would resume nuclear research, a newspaper reported Wednesday that Tehran had been seeking components and know-how in Europe for nuclear weapons and missiles.

Iran responded quickly to the front-page report in the Guardian newspaper based on a leaked European intelligence document. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said the article was intended to harm Iran's "transparent" efforts to obtain civilian nuclear power.

The report seemed certain to add to high anxieties in the West about Iran's nuclear intentions.

The Tehran government says it hopes to produce nuclear fuel only for power-generating purposes, but European governments and the United States have long feared Iran also is focused on creating nuclear weapons.

Representatives of Britain, Germany and France have been negotiating with Iran for more than a year to accept limits on its nuclear activities.

According to the Guardian, its reporters were allowed to see a 55-page intelligence document drawing on findings of British, French, German and Belgian security agencies and assessing the Iranian nuclear activities.

Dated July 1, the document concluded that Iran had been combing Europe for parts for weapons and a ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe, and that "import requests and acquisitions [are] registered almost daily," the Guardian reported.

The newspaper said the document might have been leaked in response to mounting frustration at Iran's refusal to heed Western calls to give up its program to produce fuel for its Bushehr nuclear power plant. The facility on Iran's southern coast was planned before the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Under construction over the last decade with Russian help, it is nearing completion.

"In addition to sensitive goods, Iran continues intensively to seek the technology and know-how for military applications of all kinds," the Guardian quoted the document as saying.

The paper did not say who made the intelligence document available to its reporters, but said that the analysis was produced for European governments so that they could warn industrialists to be careful about what they sell or export to Iran.

It said that Iran was using a network of front companies and agents to shop for technology in Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Iran said Tuesday that it would resume nuclear fuel research next week and that it had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna of its decision.

Iran delivered a letter to the IAEA saying its nuclear body planned to resume research and development on its "peaceful nuclear energy program" on Jan. 9, ending a voluntary suspension of such activities since late 2003.

"Research has nothing to do with nuclear fuel production and is a separate issue," Mohammed Saeedi, deputy director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told Iranian state television.

Asked about the Guardian report, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters news agency that the article was intended to "negatively affect Iran's transparent measures and its cooperation with the IAEA."

Iran resumed work to convert raw uranium into gas in August, and its announcement Tuesday was seen as raising the stakes before another round of negotiations with European diplomats scheduled Jan. 18.

Washington, which does not have official relations with Iran, has backed the Europeans' diplomatic effort.

If the talks fail, Iran could be referred to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions. However, there is no international consensus that Iran should be punished over its program.

Russia has offered a compromise under which uranium could be enriched on Russian territory, then be safeguarded for use by Iran for power-generating purposes only.

Iran says it is still evaluating the offer.

Western governments are concerned that if Iran enriches uranium on its territory, some could be diverted to make weapons.

Western pressure to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons has gained urgency since the election in June of conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has attracted attention by calling the Holocaust a myth and suggesting that Israel be relocated from the Middle East.

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