A top Iranian scientist believed to be the "father" of Iran's nuclear weapons program, and who was apparently sidelined from his research a few years ago, has resumed his work in a lab on the outskirts of Tehran, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing officials in Israel, the United States and the United Nations.
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Late last year, a United Nations nuclear watchdog report identified Mohsen Fakhrizadeh as a key figure in suspected Iranian work to develop technology and skills needed for atomic bombs and suggested he may still play a role in such efforts.
Fakhrizadeh, reportedly a senior officer in the Islamic state's elite Revolutionary Guards, was the only Iranian official named in a detailed annex of the report, which said Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a nuclear weapon.
"He is viewed as extremely important," U.S.-based proliferation expert David Albright said at the time, referring to assessments of Western intelligence officials.
Fakhrizadeh was named in a 2007 U.N. resolution on Iran as a person involved in nuclear or ballistic activities. An IAEA report the following year also referred to him briefly.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, citing U.S. officials, on Thursday, Fakhrizadeh's work on nuclear weapons was halted by the Iranian regime in 2006, and his funding was revoked.
However, the report added, sources in the IAEA believed that the top Iranian scientist resumed his research in a facility in the northern suburbs of the Iranian capital, work relevant, the report claims, to his past work on nuclear weapons.
According to the Wall Street Journal, his new bureau also includes some of the scientific and military experts that were involved in Fakhrizadeh's past work.
Israel and some in Europe, the report said, are concerned that Fakhrizadeh's renewed work means that Iran is moving toward the point in which a military strike could not stop its nuclear progress.
"They are moving up all three elements of their nuclear program to the starting line," a senior Israeli official told the Wall Street Journal.
Olli Heinonen, former chief weapons inspector for the IAEA said of the newly exposed research activity that "Such projects are good if one wants to maintain the expertise of the scientists in fields related to nuclear-weapons research under different legitimate hats," adding: "This is a way you can conceal."
In November 2011, the IAEA report said Fakhrizadeh was executive officer of the so-called AMAD Plan, which according to its information carried out studies related to uranium, high explosives and the revamping of a missile cone to accommodate a warhead.
The work stopped rather abruptly in late 2003, the agency said, citing information it had received from member states.
But the data also indicated that some of the activities later re-started and Fakhrizadeh "retained the principal organizational role." One country had told the IAEA he now heads the Organisation of Defensive Innovation and Research.
"The Agency is concerned because some of the activities undertaken after 2003 would be highly relevant to a nuclear weapon program," the IAEA document said.
One Western diplomat said Fakhrizadeh was the "pervasive thread" in the UN agency's report.
Citing intelligence sources, Albright said Fakhrizadeh had been "extremely upset" about the 2003 order to halt the work. But he said Fakhrizadeh had continued to receive money and run institutes, also suggesting some activities did not stop.
Iran's Supreme Leader says his country never pursued nuclear weapons, adding, however, but it will not abandon its controversial nuclear program.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke at a summit of the 120-member Nonaligned Movement. Iran says the gathering in Tehran shows that Western sanctions have not resulted in Iran's diplomat isolation.
Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters in Iran, says the country considers the use of nuclear weapons to be "a big and unforgiveable sin."