U.S.: Iran working on nuclear weapons
IAEA: Nuclear facilities not a surprise
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States accused Iran Friday of "actively working" on a nuclear weapons program and said that recent satellite photographs of a massive nuclear power construction project "reinforce" that belief.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said two facilities seen in the photographs "are not justified by the needs of Iran's civilian nuclear program."
"There is no economic gain for a state that's rich in oil and gas like Iran to build costly nuclear fuel cycle facilities," he said. "I point out that Iran flares more gas annually than the equivalent energy its desired reactors would produce."
Boucher added: "We've reached the conclusion that Iran is actively working to develop nuclear weapons capability."
But International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, said the chief of Iran's atomic energy program had told him in September that the construction was for a 6,000-megawatt nuclear power facility.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh also said that Iran planned to declare the facilities to the IAEA and would welcome IAEA safeguards, according to ElBaradei.
The Iranians invited ElBaradei to bring an inspection team to look at the sites, but a visit scheduled for this week was postponed until February by Iranian authorities.
U.S. officials told CNN Thursday that the United States had evidence Iran had been secretly constructing large nuclear facilities that could possibly be used to make nuclear weapons and that the IAEA had not been able to visit them.
Commercial satellite photographs taken in September and obtained by CNN show the construction near the town of Natanz and another near Arak within Iran, one of three countries President Bush has labeled an "axis of evil." (View map)
"The circumstances are fairly interesting and lead to the conclusion ... that this nuclear program in Iran is not peaceful and certainly is not transparent," Boucher said.
Iranian officials disputed the charge.
"I can categorically tell you that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program," said Mohammed Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations.
Iran has one publicly declared nuclear program at Bushehr -- what its government says is used solely for peaceful purposes, to produce electricity.
"Iran hasn't committed any acts that can be considered against international rules, and will not do so in the future," Hamid Reza Assefi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, told CNN. "At the same time, no country could, for its own political objectives, prevent Iran from achieving its own goals."
"This kind of publicity is not new," he said. "Certain circles within the United States are trying to create tensions and poison the international atmosphere, and to avert international public opinions away from the real regional danger, which is Israel."
Boucher said the two facilities "reinforce our already grave concern that Iran is seeking technology to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons."
The IAEA commissioned the satellite photographs after an Iranian opposition group talked about the construction at a news conference in August, ElBaradei said Friday.
"We saw them, we asked the Iranians about them, and they said, 'yes,' and invited us to visit," he said.
"I wouldn't say it was 'weird' " that Iran had not at that time notified the agency of the construction, he added, "but it would be nice if they had told us earlier."
"The suspect uranium enrichment plant, for example, could be used to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons," he said. "The heavy water plant could support a reactor for producing weapons grade plutonium."
The facilities near Natanz and Arak are of particular interest to the agency and will be part of the February visit, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said.
"Everybody's looking at the same satellite photos," he said, "and they're consistent with the facilities being alleged -- one is a heavy water plant and the other a uranium-enrichment facility."
"But that's not the end of the story either," he added. "Iran is entitled to have these facilities as long as it declares them to us and allows us to put them under our safeguards."
CNN Senior International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, National Security Correspondent David Ensor and State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.