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IAEA blasts U.S. intelligence report on Iran

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has written a scathing letter to a congressional committee saying part of its case against Iran is "outrageous and dishonest."

The report came a day before an Iranian opposition figure accused Iran of using lasers to enrich uranium in its bid to develop a nuclear weapon.

Tehran has repeatedly said that its nuclear program is solely for energy production.

The International Atomic Energy Agency wrote the leadership of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, lambasting it for claiming that the Islamic republic "is currently enriching uranium to weapons grade."

Iran is far from that capability, the IAEA said. (Watch how the IAEA and the House disagree -- 2:00)

Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who sits on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which prepared the report, said the subcommittee's assertion is "very clear."

"It says that we don't believe that they've gotten there. But the point of that whole section is, they are trying to enrich uranium to weapons grade," he said.

The subcommittee's report also insinuates that the IAEA may be in cahoots with Tehran in covering up Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The report alleges that an IAEA inspector might have been removed at Iran's request "for not adhering to an unstated IAEA policy barring IAEA officials from telling the whole truth about the Iranian nuclear program."

The IAEA shot back that the claim was "an outrageous and dishonest suggestion," but Rogers stood by it Thursday.

"The Iranians said take him off the program, and they said OK. You can't have Iran getting to pick who is their inspectors," Rogers said.

The IAEA has been down this road before, when it entered the fray over Iraq's weapons program before the 2003 U.S. invasion. During that tussle, the Bush administration criticized the agency for being too cautious and opposed the reappointment of agency chief Mohammed El-Baradei.

"This is a very troubling instance here, this report, of U.S. policymakers in my view trying to push the intelligence community to find evidence that they believe supports their suspicions and their end policy goals," said Daryl Kimball of the nonprofit think tank, the Arms Control Association in Washington.

Rogers, however, insisted that the report was bipartisan and that the U.S. intelligence community reviewed it. U.S. intelligence officials declined to comment on the subcommittee's report or the IAEA letter.

Laser enrichment

On Thursday, Iranian dissident Alireza Jafarzadeh told reporters in New York that Iran was operating a laser uranium-enrichment program in its quest for a nuclear warhead.

The information was obtained by opposition sources, said Jafarzadeh, president of Strategic Policy Consulting Inc., a terrorism consulting firm. Those sources made the same claim in 2002.

The current operation, Jafarzadeh told reporters, was set up in the same area near Tehran as the program opposition sources announced in 2002.

However, an analyst for a group opposed to nuclear proliferation questioned the accuracy of Jafarzadeh's allegation.

"Why would Iran put a secret laser enrichment facility in the same place where it had it in the first place? To me, that just doesn't make a whole amount of sense," said Paul Brannan, a research analyst with the nonprofit Institute for Science and International Security.

The Iranian government has disguised the operation by setting up a fake medical laser equipment company called Paya Partov in Lashkar Ab'ad, about 15 miles west of Tehran, Jafarzadeh said.

An Iranian official refused to comment on the record when asked about Thursday's announcement.

The dissident group National Council of Resistance of Iran told a Washington news conference in August 2002 that Iran had started a laser isotope separation program and developed a laser enrichment facility at Lashkar Ab'ad, according to a spring 2005 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Jafarzadeh said he is planning to ask the IAEA to send a team to investigate the site.

Iran has denied to the United Nations that it is pursuing laser enrichment and contends it is complying with international nuclear nonproliferation agreements by enriching uranium only for civil purposes.

The U.N. Security Council demanded that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment by August 31 or face the possibility of economic sanctions. Iran missed the deadline but said it would consider temporarily suspending its program as a condition for beginning talks with the United States.

CNN's Joe Vaccarello contributed to this report.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the opening ceremony of a heavy water plant in Arak, Iran, on August 26.




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