AFP: An Iranian opposition group alleged Tuesday that Iran was hiding a uranium enrichment facility in Tehran and aims at getting the atomic bomb next year. The claims by the National Council for Resistance in Iran (NCRI) come two days after Iran agreed to suspend enrichment in order to defuse international concern about its nuclear program. AFP

by Michael Adler

VIENNA - An Iranian opposition group alleged Tuesday that Iran was hiding a uranium enrichment facility in Tehran and aims at getting the atomic bomb next year.

The claims by the National Council for Resistance in Iran (NCRI) come two days after Iran agreed to suspend enrichment in order to defuse international concern about its nuclear program.

Senior NCRI member Farid Soleimani told a press conference that the Iranian military was hiding an enrichment site in northeast Tehran, "run by Mohsen Fakhri-Zadeh, one of the regime's top nuclear scientists."

"The site is called the Center for Development of Advanced Defense Technology," Soleimani said, adding that for the Iranian military, 2005 "is the target date for the first bomb.

He also said the father of the Pakistani atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan who has admitted to running an international nuclear smuggling network, delivered weapons-grade highly enriched uranium to Iran in 2001.

But Pakistan denied the Iranian opposition claim. "This is a highly exaggerated account. Somebody has let his imagination run wild," a senior government official told AFP in Islamabad.

The group's accusations come just after the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran had pledged to suspend activities related to uranium enrichment, the process that makes nuclear fuel but what can also turn into the explosive core for atomic bombs.

The IAEA is investigating US charges that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons and is to decide on the Iranian dossier in Vienna on November 25.

About the resistance allegations, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said only: "We follow up every solid lead."

A Western diplomat close to the IAEA said the agency was not sure if what the group had to offer was "actionable intelligence." The diplomat said the resistance had given an address for the hidden site but "anyone can state that."

"These accusations emerge like clockwork prior to every board meeting," the diplomat said.

Iran had said Sunday, in the agreement on suspension that was reached with the European Union, that "it does not and will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons."

Iranian officials could not be immediately reached for comment on the resistance's charges.

The NCRI is the political arm of the Iranian resistance Mujahadeen Khalq, which the United States considers a terrorist orgnization.

But the council has been instrumental in exposing sensitive Iranian nuclear activities.

The NCRI in 2002 revealed two key nuclear sites Iran had been hiding, including an uranium-enrichment plant in Natanz, which the IAEA subsequently investigated.

Soleimani alleged that Iran was fooling international inspectors with a parallel nuclear program, with the military hiding its own uranium enrichment facilities while showing inspectors civilian sites.

He gave a list of names of scientists and officials involved in the alleged secret military program, which he said was "controlled by the secretive Supreme Military Committee," headed by three senior officers from the elite Revolutionary Guards.

David Albright, president of the Washington-based think tank the Institute for Science and International Security said the resistance's accusations were "very difficult to check out" and that the group has been right on some things and wrong on others in the past.

"I think the significance of the revelation is that they're drawing the link between a nuclear weapons program and the military, particularly the Revolutionary Guards," Albright said.

The IAEA has been investigating the possibility of such a parallel system but has found no signs of this after almost two years of inspections.