By Katrin Bennhold
PARIS - An Iranian opposition group said Wednesday that Tehran bought blueprints of a nuclear bomb and weapons-grade uranium from the same Pakistani scientist who admitted selling atomic secrets to Libya and other countries a decade ago.
According to the exiled National Council for Resistance in Iran, both the bomb design and the nuclear material were handed to Iran by Abdul Qadeer Khan, who headed Pakistan's nuclear program between 1994 and 1996.
Farid Soleiman, a senior spokesman for the group, told news agencies in Vienna that Khan gave Iran a quantity of weapons-grade uranium in 2001, "so they already have some." He added that he doubted it was enough material for a bomb. "He gave them the same weapons design he gave the Libyans."
As reported by The New York Times on Wednesday, the group also claims that Iran is continuing to pursue its efforts to produce weapons-grade uranium itself at a facility outside Tehran that had not been disclosed to United Nations inspectors.
The allegations come three days after France, Britain and Germany obtained a formal commitment from Iran to suspend the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons in return for economic and political rewards that are to yet to be defined. The accord averted a referral to the UN Security Council and the prospect of sanctions, which the United States has been pushing for.
Officials at the French Foreign Ministry and the International Atomic Energy Agency said they would examine the claims carefully. But they also expressed some skepticism.
"It is a strange coincidence that just when we reach an accord they make such a revelation," said a senior official at the Foreign Ministry in Paris who has been closely involved in the negotiations with Tehran and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the Vienna-based atomic energy agency, pointed out that it was not the first time the National Council of Resistance in Iran had chosen to disclose information about Iran a few days ahead of a board meeting, when agency officials decide whether or not to refer countries in violation of nuclear nonproliferation rules to the Security Council. The agency's next such meeting is set for Nov. 25.
"You can almost set your watch according to these guys - every time there is a board meeting they will have a press conference," Gwozdecky said.
But he also said the agency has itself suspected that Iran may have a blueprint for a nuclear weapon ever since such designs were uncovered in Libya.
The Iranian exile group is the political arm of the Mujahedeen Khalq, which is listed by the United States as a terrorist organization. Two years ago the group uncovered an undeclared nuclear site in Natanz, Iran.