- The Washington Times - Friday, April 1, 2005

LONDON — The Iranian government is fast-tracking an atomic-weapons program and has allocated $2.5 billion to either buy three nuclear warheads or produce them at home, an organization of Iranian exiles claimed yesterday.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella body of exiled opposition groups, said Tehran is speeding up efforts to build a plutonium bomb by 2007.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is determined that Iran will have a nuclear arsenal and that Tehran ?would acquire the warheads by their own means or buy them abroad,? NCRI official Mohammad Mohaddessin said.

Mr. Mohaddessin, chairman of the exile group’s foreign affairs committee, told reporters in Paris that he received news of the funds allocated for the warheads only yesterday morning.

He declined to reveal his source, nor did he disclose which country could have provided the warheads.

The main force behind the NCRI is the People’s Mojahedin, also known as Mojahedin Khalq. Until recently it has waged war on fundamentalist Iran from bases in Iraq. The administration of Ronald Reagan branded it as a terrorist organization.

?Khamenei has told [Iranian Defense Minister Ali] Shamkhani … that obtaining a nuclear bomb would guarantee the survival of the Iranian regime forever,? Mr. Mohaddessin said.

The NCRI seeks the overthrow of Iran’s clerical rulers and is listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union, as well as the United States.

Mr. Mohaddessin said Ayatollah Khamenei ordered $2.5 billion in funding for the warheads in mid-2004.

He also said the Iranian government is stepping up work on a heavy-water reactor in Arak, about 150 miles south of Tehran, that could come up with enough plutonium to manufacture one nuclear bomb a year.

?The regime told the International Atomic Energy Agency that the reactor would be operational in 2014; in reality, they want to start it in 2006 or 2007,? Mr. Mohaddessin said.

Iran is prepared to produce 22 pounds of plutonium ?between now and 2006-07,? he added.

Tehran has steadfastly maintained that its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes, including the generation of electricity. But both the United States and some European Union members are concerned that Iran could use that same program to produce atomic weapons.

Britain, France and Germany are negotiating with Tehran to try to get Iran to provide ?objective guarantees? that its nuclear program will not be turned to weapons production.

The NCRI exiles have stepped up the pressure on Western nations to take steps against Iran. The group said last year that a Pakistani scientist who is known to have sold nuclear secrets abroad has provided Tehran with the blueprints for a nuclear bomb.

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