Thu 16 September, 2004 16:50
By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA (Reuters) - A senior U.S. official says satellite photographs of a suspected nuclear industrial site in Iran demonstrated its intention to develop atomic weapons, an allegation Tehran has dismissed as "a new lie".
A prominent international expert said on Wednesday that new satellite images showed the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran may be a site for research, testing and production of nuclear weapons. Iran denies having an atomic bomb programme.
"This clearly shows the intention to develop weapons," a senior U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
He also accused the U.N. nuclear watchdog of suppressing information on Parchin in its latest report on Iran -- a charge denied by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
A top Iranian official said the accusation that Tehran was hiding an atomic site from U.N. inspectors was a carefully-timed lie intended to influence a resolution on its nuclear programme being discussed this week i n Vienna by the IAEA governors.
"This is a new lie, like the last 13 lies based on news reports that have been proved to be lies," Hossein Mousavian, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA board meeting told Reuters.
Washington and Tehran have been at daggers drawn since the 1979 Islamic revolution and the present U.S. government says Iran's leadership is "evil" and set on developing nuclear arms.
David Albright, an American former weapons inspector who heads the Institute for Science and International Security think tank, made the allegation about Parchin on Wednesday, though he disagreed that it clearly showed weapons intent. He also said the IAEA had asked to inspect Parchin but had been ignored.
Mousavian said: "They have not asked to see the site, but were are ready to cooperate with the IAEA" if they want to go.
Asked if there had been a request on Parchin, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky would say only that it was "discussing with the Iranian authorities ... dual-use equipment and materials".
Howe ver, diplomats in Vienna confirmed that the agency had requested to go to the site but had received no answer.
Gwozdecky dismissed as "baseless" the suggestion by the U.S. officials that the IAEA had concealed information on Parchin.
The agency's chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, said this week he was not convinced Iran's activities were entirely peaceful but that there was no hard evidence to prove the U.S. belief Tehran was using its nuclear power programme as a front to build weapons.
Western intelligence agencies have recognised Parchin as a potential chemical, explosives and munitions production site since the 1990s. In November 2003, a Tehran parliamentarian complained publicly about spending on atomic technology and identified Parchin as a site for such activity.
"Ascertaining what the connection is between (Iran's atomic energy authority) and Parchin is very important," said another senior U.S. official. "There's no legitimate role for this kind of high explosive technology in a civi l nuclear programme."
Mousavian said the latest accusation was aimed at influencing talks on a draft resolution that could set the stage for a November showdown at the IAEA, which could in turn lead to Iran's case going to the sanctions-wielding U.N. Security Council, as Washington has demanded for more than a year.
France, Britain and Germany are in a sixth round of talks with IAEA board hardliners -- the United States, Australia and Canada -- to find a compromise on the wording of a text on Iran. The Europeans favour more negotiations with Tehran.
Negotiators from the six states still had no agreement on a text but continued to talk, informed Western diplomats said.
The most contentious of the U.S.-backed proposals is for an "automatic trigger" leading to Iran being reported to the Security Council for possible economic sanctions if it does not stop its uranium enrichment programme by October 31. The EU trio has rejected this, favouring something more vague.