Iran: Western Plot to Blame for Computer Worm at Nuclear Plant

In strongest remarks since worm found, Iranian foreign ministry Ramin Mehmanparast declares plot will not make Iran 'give up or stop' its nuclear activities.

Iran claimed Tuesday that a computer worm found on the laptops of several employees at the country's nuclear power plant was part of a covert Western plot to derail the Islamic Republic's atomic program.

Iranian foreign ministry Ramin Mehmanparast declared that the plot would not make Iran "give up or stop" its nuclear activities, which the U.S. and its allies fear are geared toward making atomic weapons. Iran denies those charges.

Mehmanparast's remarks on Tuesday were the strongest yet on Tehran's suspicions over the worm.

The malicious computer code, designed to take over industrial sites such as the Bushehr nuclear power plant, has also emerged in India, Indonesia and the U.S.

Iran said the Stuxnet worm infected personal computers of Bushehr employees but not the plant's main systems.

A senior Iranian official was quoted as saying on Monday that a small leak in a pool near the reactor caused a delay in starting up Iran's first nuclear power plant but it has now been fixed.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, also said the delay had nothing to do with the global Stuxnet computer virus believed mainly to have affected Iran.

Last week, Iranian officials said Stuxnet had hit staff computers at Bushehr, a symbol of Iran's growing geopolitical sway and rejection of international efforts to curb its nuclear activity. But the virus had not affected major systems there, they said.

Security experts say the release of Stuxnet may have been a state-backed attack on Iran's nuclear program, most likely originating in the United States or Israel, which accuse the country of seeking to develop atomic bombs. Iran denies this.

When Iran began loading fuel into Bushehr in August, officials said it would take two to three months for the plant to start producing electricity and that it would generate 1,000 megawatts, about 2.5 percent of the country's power usage.

But Salehi said last week the fuel would soon be transferred to the core of the reactor and the plant would begin supplying energy in 2011, signalling a delay in its start-up.

He gave further details on Monday, saying "a small leak was observed in a pool next to the reactor and was curbed," the official IRNA news agency reported.

Salehi added: "This leak caused the activities to be delayed for a few days. The leak has been fixed and the core of the reactor is working properly."

Mark Fitzpatrick, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Salehi might have been referring to a pool for receiving spent fuel rods from the reactor.

He said this did not sound "very serious" but suggested that Iran may be downplaying any problems at the plant.

"Typically Iran exaggerates everything about their nuclear program in a positive way," Fitzpatrick said. "It could be more serious trouble than he has stated."

Iran's program includes uranium enrichment - separate from Bushehr - that Western leaders suspect is geared towards developing atomic bombs. Iran says it is refining uranium only for a future network of nuclear power plants.

Diplomats and security sources say Western governments and Israel view sabotage as one way of slowing Iran's nuclear work