Report: Iran 'Vigorously' Pursued Programs to Produce WMDs

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WASHINGTON - Iran "vigorously" pursued programs to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and sought help from Russia, China, North Korea and Europe, a CIA report said on Friday.

"The United States remains convinced that Tehran has been pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program," according to a semi-annual unclassified report to Congress on the acquisition of technology relating to weapons of mass destruction.

"Iran sought technology that can support fissile material production for a nuclear weapons program," said the report, covering the period Jan. 1 to June 30.

Satellite imagery showed Iran was burying a uranium centrifuge enrichment facility at Natanz, a town about 160 km south of Tehran, probably to hide it in case of military attack, the CIA report said.

Iran says its uranium enrichment program is only for the peaceful generation of electricity and not for atomic weapons. Earlier this week, it said it had handed over to the UN nuclear watchdog drawings of equipment to help prove that.

The CIA said it was concerned about uranium centrifuges discovered at Natanz capable of enriching uranium for use in nuclear weapons.

Iran was believed to be pursuing nuclear fuel from both uranium and plutonium, the report said. A heavy water research reactor pursued by Iran "could produce plutonium for nuclear weapons," it said.

The report had only one paragraph on Iraq, noting that the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein occurred during that period. "A large-scale effort is currently underway to find the answers to the many outstanding questions about Iraq's WMD and delivery systems," it said.

Critics have suggested the White House may have exaggerated the threat Iraq posed due to weapons of mass destruction, used to justify the war, because no such weapons had been found.

The report also briefly discussed North Korea's nuclear ambitions. In late February, Pyongyang restarted its five-megawatt nuclear reactor, which could produce spent fuel rods containing plutonium.

In April, North Korea told U.S. officials that it had nuclear weapons and signaled its intent to reprocess the spent fuel for more. "We continued to monitor and assess North Korea's nuclear weapons efforts," the CIA said.

Syria has a nuclear research center at Dayr Al Hajar and broader access to foreign expertise provides opportunities to expand capabilities, "and we are looking at Syrian nuclear intentions with growing concern," the report said.

The threat of terrorists using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials "remained high" during the first half of 2003, the CIA report said. But terror groups would probably continue to favor conventional tactics like bombings and shootings, it said.

Documents and equipment recovered from Al-Qaida facilities in Afghanistan showed that Osama bin Laden had "a more sophisticated unconventional weapons research program than was previously known," the report said.

Al-Qaida also had ambitions to acquire or develop nuclear weapons, it said. Also it was possible that Al-Qaida or "other terrorist groups" might try to launch conventional attacks against the chemical or nuclear industrial infrastructure of the United States to cause panic and economic disruption.

China has over the past several years taken steps to improve on nonproliferation, "but the proliferation behavior of Chinese companies remains of great concern," the report said.

While China in 1997 agreed to end nuclear cooperation with Iran, the CIA said it remained concerned that some interactions continued.

The report also said the possibility of contacts between Chinese entities and entities associated with Pakistan's nuclear weapons program could not be ruled out.



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