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Iran Denies Nuclear Purchases for Weapons

Paraphrased by:
Steve Waldrop
February 24, 2004

Teheran, Iran - Iran publicly acknowledged for the first time that it once bought nuclear equipment from middlemen on the Asian subcontinent, lending credence to a recent report that detailed black-market nuclear deals between a Pakistan, Iran and Libya.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi repeated his country's claims that its efforts to acquire nuclear technology were strictly energy-related and it never intended for weapons development.

"We purchased some (nuclear) parts from some dealers, but we don't know what was the source or which country they came from," Asefi said." It happened that some of the dealers were from some subcontinent countries."

Asefi said Iran had already told the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, that it had bought some equipment. But because it was working through middlemen, it didn't know from whom.

"We have said from the beginning that we acquired some equipment from some dealers. We haven't mentioned any specific scientist or government organization," Asefi said.

Diplomats say Iran has privately told the IAEA that it bought centrifuge parts from middlemen.

Recently, U.N. nuclear agency inspectors uncovered evidence of previously undisclosed nuclear experiments in Iran. IAEA inspectors in Iran have found traces of polonium, a radioactive element that can help trigger a nuclear chain reaction. However, Polonium also can be used to generate electricity.

The report said that Iran never mentioned working with polonium in past declarations of its nuclear activities. Also, the report to the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors said the agency found traces of polonium last September. It said the element "could be used for military purposes ... specifically as a neutron initiator in some designs of nuclear weapons."

The revelation was likely to hurt Iran's efforts to persuade the world that its nuclear program is peaceful and geared only to generating electricity.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States was concerned that Iran continues to withhold information.

"They have divulged some parts of that program, but they still have a long way to go," Boucher said in Washington. "And it's not clear to us at this point that Iran has made a strategic decision to abandon its efforts at nuclear weapons production."

The IAEA board convenes next month to reassess the country's nuclear threat.