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Iran admits success in n-program after findings of centrifuge designs

Iran admits success in nuclear program after U.N. inspectors find clandestine centrifuge design drawings.

india Updated: Feb 17, 2004 16:11 IST

Iran has admitted at having achieved "big success" in nuclear fuel technology, saying the covert program revealed a day earlier by diplomats in Vienna was a means to meet the nation's energy requirements.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi refused to acknowledge that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have discovered drawings of equipment that can be used to make weapons-grade uranium.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has achieved a big success in the field of nuclear fuel cycle technology," Asefi said in a statement. "Due to sanctions imposed by the U.S. in the past 25 years that has created problems for inaugurating the Bushehr nuclear reactor, the Islamic Republic of Iran was forced to expand its capability in the field of nuclear energy in order to achieve self-sufficiency and meet its energy requirements in the next decades," the statement said.

Diplomats said in Vienna that U.N. inspectors sifting through Iran's nuclear files have discovered drawings of high-tech equipment that can be used to make weapons-grade uranium- a new link to the black market headed by the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb.

Beyond adding another piece to the puzzle of who provided what in the clandestine supply chain headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the revelations cast fresh doubt on Tehran's commitment to dispelling suspicions that it is trying to make atomic arms. The diplomats, who spokeon condition of anonymity, said the designs were of a P-2 centrifuge- more advanced than the P-1 model Iran has acknowledged using to enrich uranium for what it says are peaceful purposes.

Preliminary investigations by the inspectors working for the IAEA indicated they matched drawings of equipment found in Libya and supplied by Khan's network, said the diplomat.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Iran did not volunteer the designs- despite pledging last year to replace nearly two decades of secrecy with full openness about all aspects of its nuclear activities. Instead, they said, IAEA inspectors had to dig for them.

The diplomats emphasized that- despite calling into question Iran's pledge to be fully open- the find did not advance suspicions that Tehran was trying to make nuclear weapons.

Tehran has denied having nuclear ambitions. It signed an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to end nearly two decades of nuclear secrecy late last year but only under intense international pressure generated by the discovery of its secret enrichment program.

"We do not have anything to hide and we are ready to be inspected more (seriously) by IAEA inspectors," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told reporterson the sidelines of a Rome conference celebrating 50 years of Vatican-Iranian relations.

"There may be questions by IAEA inspectors but we are ready to verify those, and what has been achieved altogether up until now is out of our cooperation with IAEA," said Kharrazi in english when asked about the discovery of the drawings. "As long as we are ready to continue our cooperation, all outstanding questions will be verified."

First Published: Feb 17, 2004 00:00 IST