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Friday, September 10, 2004

Iran Seen Using EU to Buy Time to Get Atomic Bomb

VIENNA (Reuters) -
Iran is using negotiations with the European Union's 'big three' on suspending sensitive nuclear activities to buy the time it needs to get ready to make atomic weapons,
an Iranian exile and intelligence officials said.

With intelligence sources saying Iran could be months away from nuclear weapons capability, the United States wants Iran reported to the U.N. Security Council immediately, charging Tehran uses its civilian atomic energy program as a front to develop the bomb. Tehran vehemently denies the charge.

France, Britain and Germany want to avoid isolating Iran and have taken a go-slow approach, negotiating with Iran to suspend uranium enrichment activities.

'Iran continues to use existing differences between the U.S. and Europe to their advantage and tries to drag out talks with the EU to buy time,' Alireza Jafarzadeh, an Iranian exile who has reported accurately on Iran's nuclear program in the past, told Reuters.

'They feel they have bought at least 10 months,' Jafarzadeh said. He said he was citing sources in Iran familiar with the results of a recent high-level meeting on Iran's nuclear program attended by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Jafarzadeh said officials at the meeting also decided to allocate an additional $2 billion from Iran's central bank reserves to supplement some $14 billion already spent on what he called Iran's 'secret nuclear weapons program.'

The EU trio has expressed disappointment at Iran's failure to keep promises it made in October to suspend all activities related to the enrichment of uranium, a process of purifying it for use as fuel for atomic power plants or in weapons. But the three remain committed to a process of engagement with Tehran.

However an intelligence official said a failure to act now as Washington would like, could be decisive for the development of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability.

'The Europeans express helplessness, despair and lack of strategy, which is exactly what (the Iranians) want to hear,' a senior non-U.S. intelligence official said.

'This is their golden opportunity, between now and the coming of a new (U.S.) administration.'"