- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

Iran duped European Union negotiators into thinking it had halted efforts to make nuclear fuel while it continued to install equipment to process yellowcake — a key stage in the nuclear-fuel process, a top Iranian negotiator boasted in a recent speech to leading Muslim clerics.

“When we were negotiating with the Europeans in Tehran, we were still installing some of the equipment at the Isfahan site. There was plenty of work to be done to complete the site and finish the work there. In reality, by creating a tame situation, we could finish Isfahan,” said Hassan Rowhani, who headed talks with Britain, France and Germany until last year.

“From the outset, the Americans kept telling the Europeans, ‘The Iranians are lying and deceiving you, and they have not told you everything.’ The Europeans used to respond, ‘We trust them,’” Mr. Rowhani said in a speech to the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution.

The speech, which lays out Iran’s policy of nuclear deception in unprecedented detail, was published in an Iranian journal that circulates among the nation’s ruling elite.

He described the regime’s quandary in September 2003 when the International Atomic Energy Agency demanded a “complete picture” of its nuclear activities.

“The dilemma was if we offered a complete picture, the picture itself could lead us to the U.N. Security Council,” he said. “And not providing a complete picture would also be a violation of the resolution, and we could have been referred to the Security Council for not implementing the resolution.”

Iran successfully hid a vast nuclear-weapons research effort for nearly two decades.

Mr. Rowhani’s remarks were disclosed at an awkward moment for the Iranian government, ahead of a meeting tomorrow of the United Nations’ atomic watchdog, which must make a fresh assessment of Iran’s banned nuclear operations.

The judgment of the IAEA is the final step before Iran’s case is passed to the U.N. Security Council, where sanctions may be considered.

In his speech, Mr. Rowhani appears to have been addressing criticism from hard-liners that he gave too much ground in talks with the European troika, known as the EU-3.

The United States and its European allies think that Iran is clandestinely developing an atomic bomb, but Tehran insists it is merely seeking nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Iran’s negotiating team engaged in a last-ditch attempt last week to head off Security Council involvement. In January, the regime removed IAEA seals on sensitive nuclear equipment, and last month, it resumed banned uranium enrichment.

Mr. Rowhani disclosed that on at least two occasions the IAEA obtained information on secret nuclear-related experiments from academic papers published by scientists involved in the work.

The Iranians’ biggest setback came when Libya secretly negotiated with the United States and Britain to close down its nuclear operations.

Mr. Rowhani said that Iran had bought much of its nuclear-related equipment from “the same dealer” — a reference to the network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the rogue Pakistani atomic scientist. From information supplied by Libya, it became clear that Iran had bought P2 advanced centrifuges.

In a separate development, the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has obtained a copy of a confidential parliamentary report making clear that Iranian lawmakers were also kept in the dark on the nuclear program, which was funded secretly, outside the normal budgetary process.

Mohammad Mohaddessin, NCRI’s foreign-affairs chief, told the Sunday Telegraph: “Rowhani’s remarks show that the mullahs wanted to deceive the international community from the onset of negotiations with EU-3 — and that the mullahs were fully aware that if they were transparent, the regime’s nuclear file would be referred to the U.N. immediately.”

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