Days before the UN International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors opened a meeting on Monday expected to be dominated by the question of whether the Security Council should be asked to consider imposing sanctions on Iran to rein in its nuclear ambitions, the National Council of Resistance of Iran held a news conference in Paris claiming to
have uncovered more about Tehran's nuclear activities. Associated Press
New allegations that Iran's nuclear activities are more widespread than it has made public come from a group that has been right before on this subject - and one that wants to topple the theocracy in Tehran.
Days before the UN International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors opened a meeting on Monday expected to be dominated by the question of whether the Security Council should be asked to consider imposing sanctions on Iran to rein in its nuclear ambitions, the National Council of Resistance of Iran held a news conference in Paris claiming to have uncovered more about Tehran's nuclear activities.
Iranian officials have simply ignored the charge. That is their long-standing practice when it comes to the opposition, which has an armed wing accused of sabotage and other attacks in Iran. Iran recently announced a crackdown on what it called the council's attempts to spy on nuclear programs it insists are peaceful.
The United States accuses Iran of trying to build a nuclear bomb, has lumped it into an "axis of evil" along with Iraq under Saddam Hussein and North Korea, and is lobbying for UN sanctions.
The opposition's most dramatic allegation in Paris was that Iran has a hidden uranium processing plant near Bandar Abbas, a major industrial port in southern Iran that is home to a missile production facility, an oil refinery and a large thermal power plant.
William Samii, editor of Iran Report, a newsletter funded by Radio Free Europe, said it was becoming increasingly clear that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons, but that it would be hard to confirm a piece of the puzzle like the latest opposition allegations without a visit to the area.
The Iranian opposition has in the past provided reliable information about Tehran's nuclear programs, said Cameron Brown, assistant director of Israel's Global Research in International Affairs Center. But he added that its statements had to be viewed with caution.
"Remember the lousy information that the United States had on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction also came from dissidents," said Brown, who nonetheless believes Iran is working on a nuclear bomb.
Israel has paid particular attention to Iran's nuclear programs, because Iran often points to Israel as its main enemy and has successfully tested a long-range missile that can reach Israel.
In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor before it began operating, and some have speculated it might take similar action against Iran. Meanwhile, Israel will neither confirm nor deny the widely held assumption it has nuclear weapons.
The Iranian opposition made no secret it hoped its allegations would have a political impact, saying in a statement that they were being made on the eve of the IAEA meeting as "the Iranian clerical regime is engaged in yet another deceptive attempt to prevent a decisive decision by the international community."
Much of what the opposition had to say at Friday's Paris news conference mirrored conclusions nonproliferation experts have drawn based on Iran's pattern of being slow to respond to questions from the UN nuclear watchdog, indications its agents are seeking nuclear technology, and other evidence.
"Most experts believe that Iran's nuclear activities are directed at nuclear weapons capability," said Shannon Kyle, who tracks proliferation from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Kyle credited the Iranian opposition with having been "very reliable" on the Iranian government's nuclear programs.
Two years ago, the Iranian opposition was the first to make public that Iran was running a secret uranium enrichment program. The IAEA said it knew about the enrichment program before the opposition spread the news, but indicated the Iranian government had tried to conceal its activities.
In its latest allegations, the opposition group said the "Bandar Abbas site is the second largest facility for converting uranium to yellow cake. This site has not been disclosed before and it is in its final stage of being fully installed."
The group also listed companies it said were acting as front's for the Iranian government in its efforts to acquire nuclear technology.
Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi was quoted by Iran's official news agency last month as saying members of the opposition group were the main players in what he called a foiled nuclear spy operation.
"The Intelligence Ministry has arrested several spies who were transferring Iran's nuclear secrets out of the country," IRNA quoted Yunesi as saying without elaboration.
Yunesi's reference to "nuclear secrets" was significant, as most Iranian officials take pains to insist that Iran has nothing to hide when it comes to its nuclear program.