Iran tries to ease U.S. nuclear proliferation fears

Uranium mined for power not weapons, Tehran says

February 11, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran sought yesterday to calm Western fears that it is covertly trying to develop nuclear weapons after its president announced that the country is mining uranium ore for nuclear fuel.

The United States has criticized Iran's nuclear program as unnecessary because the country has vast oil reserves.

The United States has "grave concerns that Iran is using its supposedly peaceful nuclear program ... as a pretext for advancing a nuclear weapons program," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters yesterday in Washington.

But Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who heads the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, told Iran's state-run news agency that "The Islamic Republic's policy is clear. We want the nuclear know-how, but we are not interested in the proliferation of arms."

Iran welcomed visits by the International Atomic Energy Agency to disprove U.S.-led "propaganda" that it was engaged in a covert nuclear program, Aghazadeh said. The first such visit, by the agency's chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, is scheduled Feb. 25.

ElBaradei can inspect any nuclear facility he likes, including two sites the United States considers suspect - Nantanz and Arak, Iranian authorities said.

Aghazadeh's assurances came a day after President Mohammed Khatami said Iran was mining uranium near the central Iranian city of Yazd and processing it in the cities of Kashan and Isfahan.

It was the first time that Iran has acknowledged possessing uranium ore reserves.

The same day, Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said the Islamic Republic had for the first time developed the capacity to produce composite solid fuels for its missiles. But a scientist with Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that he believes Iran's missile inventory is outdated by U.S. standards.

Neither Khatami's nor Shamkhani's announcements made a stir in Iran, which is preoccupied with economic woes and the expected U.S.-led war against Iraq.

According to Iranian officials, the aim over the next two decades is to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity from nuclear sources, which could supply as many as 6 million homes. A sixth of that would come from the $1 billion nuclear plant being built in the southwestern port city of Bushehr, a joint Iranian-Russian project that has sparked criticism from the United States.

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