THE WASHINGTON TIMES
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Group discloses secret nuke effort
By Jennifer Joan Lee
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
PARIS — The Iranian opposition group that exposed the nation's covert nuclear weapons program two years ago said yesterday that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the effort to continue in secret.
The opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), also disclosed the existence of what it said is a new uranium enrichment facility in central Iran that is nearing completion.
Speaking to reporters in Paris yesterday, Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the NCRI's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Iranian regime is "playing a double game" with Europe.
"Khamenei has ordered his regime to not only continue the enrichment of uranium, but to buy time and accelerate the project in order to make the bomb as quickly as possible," Mr. Mohaddessin said.
"Khamenei has ordered his diplomats and his negotiators to prolong the negotiations as much as possible, possibly by between eight and 12 months, which is exactly the time needed to complete the bomb," he said.
The Bush administration and European powers have branded the NCRI a terrorist group, mainly because its military wing was sheltered by Saddam Hussein at bases in Iraq, from which it launched attacks in Iran.
The group, however, gained credibility in August 2002 by exposing another secret uranium enrichment facility being built underground in Natanz, 150 miles south of Tehran, and a heavy water production facility at Arak, about 120 miles southwest of Tehran.
That exposure triggered the current nuclear standoff with Iran, by forcing the Islamist regime to open these sites to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Talks today between European negotiators and Iran represent a "last-chance" at getting the Tehran regime to stop enriching uranium and avoid the threat of U.N. sanctions.
In exchange, the Europeans are offering technical assistance — such as helping Iran build a light-water power reactor and providing a supply of reactor fuel — and trade incentives.
Mr. Mohaddessin said that while the regime was negotiating with Europe, it was also putting the finishing touches on a major site that would be needed to produce large quantities of enriched uranium.
The site, located in Isfahan in central Iran, would convert uranium oxide, called "yellowcake," into uranium hexafluoride gas, a stage prior to enrichment.
He said a test center for centrifuges had been constructed with "utmost discretion" near the site, and that between 120 and 180 centrifuges will be installed there.
Uranium hexafluoride is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
Mr. Mohaddessin credited a network of sources inside Iran for his information.
A spokesman at the British Foreign Office, reached by telephone, declined to comment on Mr. Mohaddessin's charges but said there was "nothing to lose" by continuing to negotiate.
"If we do get compliance, that's all well and good, and if we don't, there's more chance of a consensus at the next [IAEA] board meeting because all options would have been looked at," he said.