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Iran announces nuclear plans

Khatami: Iranian scientists have acquired knowledge to develop nuclear power
Khatami: Iranian scientists have acquired knowledge to develop nuclear power

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TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- President Mohammad Khatami says that Iran plans to develop uranium mines in the nation's south and will use advanced nuclear technology it has acquired for the generation of electricity.

The United States has said it believed Iran was about to embark on a nuclear weapons program.

"I assure all peace-loving individuals in the world that Iran's efforts in the field of nuclear technology are focused on civilian application and nothing else. This is the Iranian nation's legitimate right," Khatami said on Sunday, according to Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

According to the IRNA, Khatami said the government had adopted plans to exploit uranium mines 200 kilometers off the southern city of Yazd and set up plants in Isfahan and Kashan to extract uranium composites to provide fuel for generating electricity.

Khatami also said that Iranian experts had acquired the knowledge for civilian application of the nuclear technology.

In December, the U.S. accused Iran of "actively working" on a nuclear weapons program and said 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."

ElBaradei invited

But International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei 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 have invited ElBaradei to bring an inspection team to look at the sites, but a visit scheduled for mid-December was postponed until February by Iranian authorities.

U.S. officials told CNN in December 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.

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