- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

In yet the latest sign of Iran’s refusal to come clean about its nuclear weapons program, the ruling mullahs last week stiffed International Atomic Energy Agency President Mohammed ElBaradei, who visited Tehran in an effort to persuade the regime to agree to tougher inspections. Currently, Iran is only required to accept prearranged IAEA inspections of nuclear sites that it chooses, giving it the ability to steer inspectors away from places where nuclear weapons are actually being developed. And that’s the way things will stay for now, because Iran refuses to do anything beyond holding more talks with the United Nations-affiliated IAEA. This outcome will surely be unacceptable to the Bush administration.

Until last year, U.S. estimates were that Iran might produce a nuclear weapon in eight to 10 years. Now, Washington believes that Iran might be able to do so in the next few years. In December, Iran admitted that it is building two additional nuclear facilities — the Arak and Natanz sites — which could assist an atomic weapons development program. At the Natanz site, located approximately 200 miles south of Tehran, there is a uranium enrichment facility, which is expected to be ready by 2005. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Natanz could produce enough material for two weapons a year.

“It appears from the [commercial satellite] imagery that a service road, several small structures, and perhaps three large structures are being built below grade, and some of these are already being covered with earth. Iran clearly intended to harden and bury that facility,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters in December. “That facility was probably never intended by Iran to be a declared component of the peaceful program. Instead, Iran has been caught constructing a secret underground site where it could produce fissile material.”

Moreover, according to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the regime has activated yet another nuclear development site in the past six months: the Kalahdouz complex, operated by the military’s Defense Industry Organization and located just north of Tehran. Also, NCRI — which has provided accurate information about Iran’s nuclear weapons programs in the past — says that Iran has hidden another uranium enrichment site close to that military complex.

Just last month, the IAEA itself issued a report that confirms Washington’s longstanding charge: that Iran is attempting to deceive the international community about its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. And on Wednesday, Mr. ElBaradei met with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and other senior officials, urging them to sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that would grant the IAEA the power to make surprise visits to suspected nuclear facilities in Iran. Their refusal — and the mounting evidence that Tehran continues to forge ahead with its weapons programs — mean the Bush administration should ratchet up the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran to come clean about its nuclear development efforts.

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