Thursday, September 14, 2006

Iran has secretly revived program to enrich uranium using laser technology, Iranian opposition figure says

International Herald Tribune:
Iran has secretly revived a program to enrich uranium using laser technology, reportedly with favorable results, an Iranian opposition figure said Thursday citing information from members of the resistance inside the country.

Alireza Jafarzadeh said information about the laser enrichment program at Lashkar Ab'ad, about 25 kilometers (about 15 miles) northwest of Tehran, came from the same sources that led to his revelation in May 2003 that Iran had a clandestine nuclear program. READ MORE

There was no independent confirmation of the information Jafarzadeh offered on Thursday and Iran's U.N. Mission called the allegation "baseless and unfounded."

Jafarzadeh, who heads the Washington-based Strategic Policy Consulting think tank, is credited with having aired Iranian military secrets in the past, but U.S. officials consider some of his assertions to have been inaccurate.

Jafarzadeh urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to immediately send U.N. nuclear inspectors to Lashkar Ab'ad and demand access to all areas, including a new 5,000-square foot (464.5 sq. meters) hall in a large garden where he said secret laser enrichment activities are being conducted.

"We've only now been sent a copy of this report," said IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming, "and like all information that we receive, we must take the time to check it against all our information in order to decide whether it is worth following up."

Jafarzadeh said the laser enrichment is being conducted under the guise of a front company called Paya Partov whose board is chaired by Reza Aqazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Its advisers include Iran's leading experts on laser enrichment, he said.

Contrary to Iran's claim that it is complying with its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Jafarzadeh said, "once again the information indicates that this is absolutely not the case."

"The information I've gotten from my sources today suggests that Iran is heavily involved in laser enrichment program, something Iran has told the IAEA that they have abandoned," he told a news conference.

Jafarzadeh has worked for the political wing of the Mujahedin Khalq, an Iranian opposition group that Washington and the European Union list as a terrorist organization. He claimed this was done to try to get Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council.

In January, Jafarzadeh divulged details of Iran's enrichment plans, which were later confirmed by the IAEA. In March, he said Iran had "significantly increased the production line" of its Shahab 3 missiles in 2005, and was now turning out 90 a year — more than four times its previous production rate.

Iran's U.N. Mission denounced Jafarzadeh's latest claims about a revived laser enrichment program, denouncing the timing of "its baseless allegations when there is a session of the board of governors of the IAEA."

"It is also a well-known fact that at any stage that the international community is witnessing a step forward in the Iranian peaceful nuclear program, this terrorist group and collaborator of Saddam Hussein tries its best to hamper the progress," the Iranian Mission said in a statement.

The reference to the deposed Iraqi leader stems from Saddam allowing the Mujahedin Khalq to operate bases in Iraq.

Iran's centrifuge-based uranium enrichment program is the focus of an international standoff, with Tehran defying the Security Council's demand that it freeze its enrichment program, which can be misused to make nuclear weapons.

Senior EU and Iranian representatives are currently holding talks on enrichment and other nuclear differences between Tehran and the international community.

Iran has repeatedly said the country's nuclear program is intended solely to generate electricity, while the United States and Europe contend Tehran secretly aims to develop weapons.

The West has called on Iran to stop construction of a heavy-water nuclear reactor, whose spent fuel reactor can be reprocessed to extract plutonium, which along with highly enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Jafarzadeh said Iran's decision to revive its laser enrichment program, which is still "at experimental levels shows that Iran want "to use every possibility that is available to them to rush to the bomb."

"Reports received from my sources in Iran indicate that the resumption of the laser enrichment activities at Lashkar Ab'ad has reportedly produced favorable results," he said.

But Jafarzadeh said the program is so secret that "I'm not all too certain how far they have gone" in enriching uranium.

Jafarzadeh said he first revealed the site in Lashkar Ab'ad in May 2003 and it was put under IAEA inspection. In October 2003, Iran acknowledged that it carried out laser enrichment experiments from 1993 to 2000, and said it had established a pilot plant for laser enrichment at Lashkar Ab'ad — but Tehran said the equipment was dismantled in May 2003 and put in storage, he said.

He said Paya Partov operates as a business that has medical laser equipment and industrial equipment for precision steel cuts using lasers, but he claimed its real role is in serving as a cover for a revived laser enrichment program carried out "with great secrecy" in a new facility.

At the same time, Jafarzadeh claimed that Iran was still carrying out laser enrichment at its military facilities in different locations, including an underground tunnel facility at the Parchin military base outside of Tehran which the Iranian opposition exposed last year.