Defense Ministry site in Tehran, despite an agreement with the Europeans two days ago to suspend all enrichment activities.
New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS - An Iranian opposition group leveled startling but unconfirmed charges on Wednesday that Iran had bought blueprints for a nuclear bomb and obtained weapons-grade uranium on the black market.
The group also charged that Iran was still secretly enriching uranium at an undisclosed Defense Ministry site in Tehran, despite an agreement with the Europeans two days ago to suspend all enrichment activities.
The claims, made in separate news conferences in Paris and Vienna by a group known as the National Council of Resistance, the political front for the People's Mujahedeen, could not be independently verified, and independent nuclear experts were divided about whether they could be true.
The group rattled the Iranian government and the arms control community in 2002 when it revealed the existence of two secret Iranian nuclear facilities, including an enrichment plant in the town of Natanz.
Wednesday's accusations follow by two days the announcement of Iran's agreement to suspend uranium enrichment while it negotiates with France, Germany and Britain for economic and political benefits. In that agreement, the People's Mujahedeen is placed in the same category as Al Qaeda - as terrorist groups that Iran and the European Union will combat together.
The United States and the European Union define the People's Mujahedeen as a terrorist group.
The charges also come eight days before the 35-country ruling board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, opens meetings in Vienna to decide whether Iran has curbed its nuclear activities or should be referred to the Security Council for censure.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a nonpartisan arms control group in Washington, said, "The timing of these revelations raises suspicions that the group is attempting to derail Iran's deal with the Europeans, particularly since there is no evidence to back up any of these claims."
He added that the allegation that Pakistan supplied Iran with highly enriched uranium in 2001 "seems preposterous, given the fact that was a year when the United States was really cracking down on Pakistan's nuclear export activities."
But Paul Leventhal, of the Nuclear Control Institute in Washington, said the group "has been accurate in the past."
"Everything that came out initially about the Iranian clandestine program was from this organization," he said.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Wednesday that he had seen new evidence suggesting that Iran had been "actively working" on a system to deliver a nuclear bomb, but he said he had no information on what help it might have received.
He said the intelligence tended to support the validity of the new accusations. "I have seen intelligence which would corroborate what this dissident group is saying, and it should be of concern to all parties," Mr. Powell said in Manaus, Brazil, while traveling to a meeting of Asian and Pacific nations in Chile.
A confidential report by the nuclear agency sent to its board on Monday for review next week provides a lengthy record of an Iranian pattern of secret nuclear activities, the provision of incomplete and misleading information and delay.
"We follow up every solid lead," said Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the agency.
The nuclear agency has long suspected that Iran, like Libya, received bomb blueprints from the secretive network set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan, known in Pakistan as the father of the country's nuclear bomb. Among the Mujahedeen's charges on Wednesday was that the Iranian blueprints came from the Khan network.
In September, the agency revealed that as early as 1995, Pakistan was providing Tehran with the designs for advanced centrifuges capable of making bomb-grade nuclear fuel. The Iranians have never acknowledged that the source was Pakistan.
I.A.E.A. inspectors were able to nail down the connection between Iran and Pakistan because of similar centrifuge packaging material they found in Libya and Iran.
If it is proved that Iran received highly enriched uranium or blueprints for a bomb from Pakistan or any other country, it would set off widespread international condemnation and could derail the European agreement with Iran.
That agreement envisions the start of talks next month on a package of economic, technological and political incentives in exchange for a freeze on Iran's production of enriched uranium, which can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
It could also prompt the Bush administration to make good on its threats to haul Iran before the Security Council.
"The game is over if all this is true," said one Western diplomat with close ties to the nuclear agency. "But the I.A.E.A. needs more than suspicions, and the Iranian resistance hasn't given it anything it can follow up on."
In both news conferences on Wednesday, the group specifically charged that Iran moved uranium enrichment equipment this year from a suspicious site before demolishing the buildings and carting off the rubble as I.A.E.A. inspectors were preparing to visit. The Iranian government said it was destroyed to make way for a park. As proof, the opposition group presented satellite photographs that were already in the public domain.
The opposition group also claimed that the equipment was moved to a nearby Defense Ministry site, called the Center for the Development of Advanced Defense Technology, in Lavizan in the northernmost part of Tehran, and is being used to enriched uranium there.
In reply to a question in Vienna, Farid Soleimani, an opposition group spokesman, said the Khan nuclear network in Pakistan "gave Iran a quantity" of highly enriched uranium in 2001 but added, "I would doubt it was given enough for a weapon."
Mr. Soleimani said Mr. Khan also "gave them the same weapons design he gave the Libyans, as well as more in terms of weapons design," sometime between 1994 and 1996.
There was no immediate comment on the Mujahedeen's allegations in Tehran on Wednesday.
Early in the day, Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, hailed Iran's agreement with the Europeans as a "great victory," because the Europeans "have recognized that Iran can exercise its rights" in seeking peaceful nuclear technology. He added that the first test of the Europeans' "good will" would be next week's meeting of the atomic agency.
"If the I.A.E.A. board of governors adopts a correct decision, it will be a step in the direction that will give us more hope that our rights will be exercised," he said. However, he added, "If we see that they don't keep their promise, it's natural that we won't fulfill our promise."
Steven R. Weisman contributed reporting from Manaus, Brazil, for this article, and Ariane Bernard from Paris.