Thursday, March 31, 2005

Yahoo! News - Terrorist Killers: Iran Seeks to Obtain Nuclear Warheads

Yahoo! News - Exiles: Iran Seeks to Obtain Nuclear Warheads: "Exiles: Iran Seeks to Obtain Nuclear Warheads

Thu Mar 31, 8:10 AM ET World - Reuters
By Kerstin Gehmlich
PARIS (Reuters) - Iran allocated $2.5 billion to obtain three nuclear warheads last year, an exiled opposition group said Thursday, without saying whether Iran had secured any of the warheads.

The group, which has given accurate information in the past on some of Iran's nuclear facilities, also said Iran was speeding up work on a reactor south of Tehran which could produce enough plutonium for an atomic bomb by 2007.

Iran says its nuclear program will be used only to generate electricity. But Washington and European countries fear Iran could use its nuclear plants to produce bombs.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exile group that wants to oust Iran's clerical rulers, said Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had told the defense minister to take steps to obtain nuclear warheads.

"In mid-2004, Khamenei allocated $2.5 billion to obtain three nuclear warheads," Mohammad Mohaddessin of the NCRI told a news conference in Paris.

Mohaddessin said he received the news Thursday morning and had no further information on the project. He did not say whether or how the money had been spent.

The NCRI said last year that Iran obtained a nuclear bomb design from a Pakistani scientist who has acknowledged selling nuclear secrets abroad. The group has also said Iran was working on large-range missiles capable of hitting European cities.

The NCRI is a coalition of exiled opposition groups, which is listed by the United States as a terrorist organization.

SPEEDING UP WORK ON REACTOR

Mohaddessin said the Iranian regime was speeding up work on a reactor in Arak, 150 miles south of Tehran, which could produce enough plutonium for one atomic bomb per year.

"The regime told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the reactor would be operational in 2014, but in reality, they want to start it in 2006 or 2007," he said.

A U.S. think-tank said earlier this month that new satellite images showed that a heavy water plant at Arak, intended to supply the research reactor, was nearly complete.

Heavy-water reactors can be used to produce significant amounts of bomb-grade plutonium, which can then be extracted from the spent fuel through reprocessing.

The NCRI revealed the Arak heavy-water production plant, along with the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, in August 2002, describing it as part of a secret nuclear weapons program. Iran later declared both sites to the IAEA.

According to Mohaddessin, Iran's parliament said in a confidential report in February 2004 that the government had not informed it sufficiently about the two sites.

"The legislative branch does not clearly know where the budget for these two projects is coming from," Mohaddessin quoted the report by a parliamentary committee as saying.

"It neither knows how the project was started and how it was put into place," the report said, according to the NCRI."