Iran is building nuclear weapons through both plutonium and enriched uranium as part of a secret development effort, a senior State Department official said yesterday.
“The regime in Tehran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons capability,” Robert G. Joseph, the undersecretary of state for arms control, said in a speech.
Mr. Joseph said in remarks prepared for delivery to a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that Iran is pursuing “numerous routes to provide it with the ability to produce fissile material for weapons.”
The comments were a rare public disclosure by the Bush administration about Iran’s secret nuclear arms program.
“We judge Iran is going down the plutonium route through construction of a heavy-water research reactor and a heavy-water plant,” he said, noting that Tehran has carried out experimental plutonium separation and purification work.
“Iran has even more aggressively pursued the enrichment route, demonstrating its commitment and determination to expend tremendous resources in defiance of the international community by building facilities to convert and enrich uranium.”
Mr. Joseph said an Iranian facility at Natanz has thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium and that recently discovered documents show Iran has technology for casting and machining hemispheres of enriched uranium. “We know of no application for such hemispheres other than nuclear weapons,” he said.
Iran also has missiles, such as the 800-mile-range Shahab-3, and is working on longer-range missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads, he said.
“We believe it aspires to this capability so that it can hold hostage the cities of our friends in the Middle East and Europe — and perhaps in the future even those in our own country,” Mr. Joseph said.
“If Tehran can succeed in this effort, it may believe that it could undertake its expansionist designs with less concern that we would be willing to accept the risk of assisting our allies in the Gulf.”
The Bush administration will not accept a nuclear armed Iran because of the threat it poses to the region, Tehran’s backing for terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, and the direct threat it will pose to U.S. forces and allies in the region and Europe and Asia, Mr. Joseph said.
Also, Iran’s nuclear arms could be a “fuse” for further arms proliferation and they represent a threat to Israel, he said.
“Not content with his efforts to destroy the peace process, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad may believe that nuclear weapons are the chosen instrument to achieve his stated goal of wiping Israel off the map,” he said. “Despite the resulting apocalyptic costs for Iran itself, the regime could miscalculate, or accept those costs in the cause of martyrdom.”
In Tehran yesterday, Mr. Ahmadinejad lashed out at the United States and vowed to resist the pressure of “bully countries” as European nations circulated a draft resolution urging that Tehran be reported to the U.N. Security Council for its nuclear activities.
Mr. Joseph warned that Iran is “at the nexus” of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. “If Iran has fissile material or nuclear weapons, the likelihood of their transfer to a third party would increase — by design or through diversion,” he said.
As for the threat of military action, Mr. Joseph said: “The president has repeatedly emphasized that all options are on the table to deal with the threat from Iran, but that our strong preference is to do so through effective diplomacy.”