While Tehran has denied recent claims by an Iranian opposition group that says it has "exclusive" details about a third uranium enrichment facility in the country, the denial was couched in particularly tortuous turns of phrase by Iran's top atomic energy official.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran head Ali Akbar Salehi said, "No such nuclear installation with a specific definition exists in Iran which has not been declared to the [International Atomic Energy Agency]." He added, however, referring to the National Council of Resistance for Iran, which said its members obtained the information about the enrichment facility from Iran's chief opposition group, the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, that if they "really are aware of such an installation, perhaps they would like to tell us about it so that we can thank them."
Salehi's statements could be taken as something other than an unequivocal denial by Iran's government of the assertions. At a press conference in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday the National Council of Resistance - basically a front for Mujahedin-e-Khalq, which the United States considers a terror organization - presented satellite images and other material as evidence for its claims of the existence of an enrichment facility deep under a mountain near Qazvin, about 120 kilometers west of Tehran. The group presented photographs it said was evidence of a network of underground chambers designed to hold centrifuges to enrich nuclear material.
There has been no official reaction from the United States or Israel, but foreign news agencies quoted Washington officials, speaking anonymously, who were skeptical about the claims. One told Reuters that the United States already knew about the Qazvin facility: "This facility has been under construction for years, and we've known about it for years. While there's still some ambiguity about its ultimate purpose - not unusual for something that's still taking shape - there's no reason at this point to think it's nuclear. The Iranians put military stuff in tunnels, too. People should be cautious about reaching conclusions here," the official said.
The largest known enrichment plant in Iran is the one in Natanz, where the government says it plans to install 50,000 centrifuges capable of enriching uranium to 3.5 percent, to fuel its nuclear power plants. The plant currently has some 9,000 centrifuges, about 6,000 of which are operating. Iran has slightly less than three tons of low-enriched uranium that if enriched further, to 20 percent, would be enough for two or three atomic bombs.
In addition, Iran has produced 22 kilograms of more highly enriched uranium for a research reactor in Tehran.
Last September Iran announced the existence of a second enrichment facility, near Qom, when it became clear that the Western powers were aware of it and were about to report on it.
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