Report: Iran has 'extremely advanced' nuclear program
Facility violates non-proliferation pact, sources say
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- According to a Time magazine report, Iran has a nuclear program that is far more advanced than has been previously disclosed.
Citing unnamed diplomatic sources, Time says U.N. weapons inspectors have discovered that Iran's uranium-enrichment facility is "extremely advanced," to the point that it violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT].
On a visit last month to Iran, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visited the facility designed to enrich uranium that Iran is building near Natanz.
But diplomatic sources quoted by TIME say he found the plant much further advanced than previously believed. The sources say work on the plant is "extremely advanced," involves hundreds of gas centrifuges ready to produce enriched uranium and "the parts for a thousand others ready to be assembled."
Iran has confirmed that two facilities, the one in Natanz and another near Arak, are indeed nuclear plants, but it says the country's nuclear program is aimed at building nuclear power plants.
"Iranian experts have acquired the knowledge for civilian application of the nuclear technology," President Mohammed Khatami said in February. The Iranian leader added that nations have a right to do so.
Sources told Time that the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, found that Iran has added uranium to some centrifuges as a test -- in "blatant violation" of the NPT, to which Iran is a signatory.
"If Iran were found to have an operating centrifuge, it would be a direct violation [of the treaty] and is something that would need immediately to be referred to the United Nations Security Council for action,"Jon Wolfstahl of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace was quoted as saying in the article.
The IAEA has neither publicly released the information nor responded to the Time report.
U.S. officials have long accused Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.
In December 2002, the State Department said recent satellite photos reinforced the belief that Iran was "actively working" on a nuclear weapons program. However, the IAEA said that Iran had notified it of its intentions and invited it to inspect the facilities.
Referring to Sunday's report, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," "Here, we suddenly discover that Iran is much further along -- with a far more robust nuclear weapons development program -- than anyone said it had, and now the IAEA has found that out.
"We've provided them information, they have discovered it, and it shows you how a determined nation that has the intent to develop a nuclear weapon can keep that development process secret from inspectors and outsiders."
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the news "does not surprise us at all."
"We've said all along that there are real problems with Iran and its so-called peaceful nuclear programs," she said on ABC's "This Week." "It's been couched as a peaceful program, but we've been one of the lone voices that said the Iranians are a problem."
Last year, President Bush called on Russia to end its work with Iran on nuclear reactors, insisting that Tehran was trying to develop nuclear weapons. Moscow refused.
"We've talked to the Russians about it," Rice said Sunday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi cited Iran last week in presenting her argument that regime change in Iraq will not ensure its disarmament. Iraq is "in a very dangerous neighborhood," the California Democrat said. "The Iranians are developing weapons of mass destruction. Practically every country in the region is developing weapons of mass destruction and the capability to launch them."
Israel, which is widely believe to have developed nuclear weapons and which destroyed an Iraqi nuclear plant in Osirak in a 1981 raid, says it is deeply alarmed by the developments.
An Israeli official told Time that the news is "a huge concern" because Iran denies Israel's right to exist and is a principal sponsor of Hezbollah, which has carried out attacks against Israelis and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States.
Time magazine is a unit of AOL Time Warner, which also owns CNN.