An intelligence document being studied by diplomats in Israel and Western powers alleges that a secret Iranian office is charged with overseeing military elements of the nation's nuclear program, Der Spiegel reported yesterday (see GSN, Jan. 25).
The United States and its allies have expressed concern that Iran could tap its uranium enrichment program to generate nuclear-weapon material. Tehran has insisted its atomic ambitions are strictly peaceful, and the government has repeatedly informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it has only one, nonmilitary organization involved in the country's uranium enrichment work.
The dossier, though, describes an Iranian Defense Ministry entity responsible for coordinating secret nuclear weapons development efforts. Referred to as the Expanded High-Technology Applications Department, or FEDAT, the office is said to be run by 48-year-old Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a ranking member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and a professor at Imam Hossein University in Tehran.
Seemingly adapted from the earlier Center for Aviation Technology in Tehran, the department is believed to split nuclear weapons development work with Iran's Atomic Energy Agency while competing with the agency in other respects. While the energy agency has generally concentrated on Iran's uranium enrichment program, the Defense Ministry department is assessed to have focused on efforts to develop a nuclear-capable warhead that could fit onto the nation's Shahab ballistic missiles, according to the report.
Such a weapon could be ready between 2012 and 2014, experts say.
The intelligence document indicates that Iran's nuclear weapons work is highly developed, according to officials familiar with the report.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog and Der Spiegel have both obtained documents detailing the office's scientific staff and purported organizational structure, but Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has dismissed the papers as forgeries aimed at incriminating his country.
The United States could begin a push for new U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran once France begins its turn chairing the council next month, Der Spiegel reported. China is likely to maintain its opposition to tough economic penalties on the Middle Eastern state, though, a move that could force the United States and European nations to target Tehran independently of the international body (Der Spiegel, Jan. 25).
France yesterday called on other EU nations to move toward imposing additional sanctions on Iran, Agence France-Presse reported.
"The Europeans have to prepare the sanctions process," said Pierre Lellouche, European affairs minister for France. He said that Iran was prompting the new measures with its "refusal of all offers of a solution" to disputes over its nuclear activities.
"We have been in talks for six years," Lellouche said. "All the West's proposals have been rejected and now if we listen to the Iranian spokesman they are reaching 20 percent enrichment" of Iranian uranium, a development he said would place the country on the "threshold to [nuclear] militarization."
He added, though, that the European Union would not pursue its own penalties against Iran if the Security Council failed to agree on new sanctions (Agence France-Presse I/Spacewar.com, Jan. 26).
"We need to see what comes out of the Security Council discussions and the role the members play and then return to the subject," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said after conferring with European foreign ministers, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
"The sanction instrument is a very blunt one, so it should be used with extreme care," added Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (Deutsche Presse Agentur/Monsters and Critics, Jan. 25).
Italy yesterday called for more participation by Arab states in addressing the nuclear dispute, AFP reported.
"We together have to prevent Iran from going nuclear. This is a concern for all of us -- for Western democracies, the United States and Europe, but for Arab states as well," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in Washington during a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"We are in perfect agreement in broadening the consultation of a number of states in the region that can be interested and are interested in talking about what to do," Frattini said (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, Jan. 25).
Meanwhile, Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili's planned appearance in Moscow this week was delayed and no new date for the trip has been set, RIA Novosti reported.
The scheduled three-day visit was pushed back to permit further preparatory work, according to Iranian state media (RIA Novosti, Jan. 25).
Jalili had been expected to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, AFP reported (Agence France-Presse III/Google News, Jan. 26).
Elsewhere, Tehran today demanded the extradition of U.S.-based members of an opposition group it blamed for the bombing death this month of Iranian nuclear physics professor Massoud Ali Mohammadi, Reuters reported.
The Swiss ambassador to Iran, whose embassy serves as a point of contact to Washington by Tehran, was called to the Foreign Ministry.
"Regarding the assassination which was claimed by [the pro-Iranian monarchy organization] Tondar, we asked the Swiss Embassy for an explanation on how the U.S. accepted to have this terrorist group in their country," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast. "They should be answerable about this and we want the criminals to be extradited to Iran," he said (Hossein Jaseb, Reuters, Jan. 26).