- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran, March 10 (UPI) — Iran on Monday rejected allegations by two senior Bush administration officials that the Islamic republic had a very advanced secret nuclear weapons program.

"Such remarks are a continuation of U.S interference in Iran's domestic affairs," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"Iran's nuclear program is in accordance with realities and in our opinion the United States tries to thwart the constructive cooperation between the Islamic republic of Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, was quoted as saying.

Asefi accused what he called "the U.S. snobbish officials" of trying to distort realities, aiming to weaken international institutions.

He repeated Iran's previous claims that his country's activities in the field were transparent and of a peaceful nature and that peaceful application of atomic energy was part of the "natural and legitimate rights of the Iranian nation to attain economic development."

Asefi's comments came after Time magazine quoted diplomatic sources as saying that a nuclear power facility at the Iranian central city of Natanz was "extremely advanced" and ready to produce enriched uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons.

Then on Sunday, Secretary of State Colin Powell told NBC, "Right now, IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) is discovering, as a result of information that intelligence made available, that Iran has a far more robust program for the development of nuclear weapons than the IAEA thought."

Meanwhile on ABC television, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice also told former Clinton press aide George Stephanopolous that the United States had talked to Russia, China and the atomic energy agency "about the need to get into Iran and to understand what is going on there."

Last month, Iran officially announced it had attained the technology to process uranium it needed for its future nuclear power plants. Uranium is being mined in the Saghand area, 120 miles from the central city of Yazd.

Iran says its target is to reach a 6,000-megawatt capacity of nuclear-generated electricity in 20 years.

With the help of Russia, Iran is now building its first nuclear reactor near the southern port of Bushehr, which is expected to be commissioned by either late 2003 or early 2004. The United States has continually expressed concern over Russia supplying the sophisticated technology to the Islamic republic.

Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. But in February IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei and a team of nuclear weapons inspectors visited Iran and urged the country to sign up for the agency's so-called Additional Protocol, which would oblige it to open up its nuclear facilities to more intensive U.N. scrutiny.

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