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IRAN: Nuclear chief rejects allegations of secret enrichment site

September 10, 2010 | 12:49 pm

Iran-salehi Was there a hint of a dare in Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi's rejection Friday of allegations that Iran was working on a secret nuclear site?

Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, denied claims by an outlawed fringe group that the Islamic Republic had begun construction of a secret nuclear fuel enrichment facility northwest of Tehran. 

On Thursday the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, or MKO, a cult-like Iranian exile group with ties to neoconservative opponents of Iran’s nuclear program in Washington, presented satellite photos to reporters and referred to unspecified intelligence sources that it said showed Iran was creating a secret nuclear enrichment plant in the  village of Bahjatabad, near the city of Abeyk in Qazvin province.

Salehi denied the allegation. 

If there's a nuclear facility at the site, he said, prove it.

“There are no nuclear installations, or what can be technically defined as one, in Iran that the International Atomic Energy Agency is unaware of,” he told the semi-official Mehr News Agency. “We have no such installations where we enrich uranium. If they really are aware of such installations perhaps they would like to tell us about it so that we can thank them.” 

But he also suggested that the satellite images could show the site of another type of high-tech facility. 

“Inside Iran there are many varieties [of plants],” he said, “be they of the radio-medical variety or centers for sterilizing agricultural products through radiation, none of which fits the technical definition” of a nuclear plant. 

Arms control experts and the Pentagon cast doubt on the accusation.

“I don't know if this site is one that they have discovered that our intelligence experts have not seen,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told Agence France-Presse. “I find that hard to believe, but we shall see." 

The MKO, listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, divulged accurate information about Iran’s undisclosed nuclear facilities in Natanz and Arak in 2002, but has also led international inspectors on wild goose chases. 

It spoke Thursday under the auspices of the Iran Policy Committee, formed in 2005 as a lobbying organization that advocates the overthrow of the government.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: Iranian atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks during a press conference at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in August. Credit: Abedin Taherkenareh/European Pressphoto Agency