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2/19/03 - IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM - 2003-02-20

In the words of U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, the United States has "very grave concerns that Iran is using its supposedly peaceful nuclear program, including construction of the reactor at Bushehr [boo-share], as a pretext for advancing a nuclear weapons program." Mr. Boucher's statement came after Iranian president Mohammed Khatami and Iranian Atomic Energy Minister Gholamreza Agazadeh [goh-lahm-reh-zah ah-gah-ZAH-day] acknowledged Iran's intentions to pursue a complete nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium mining, conversion and enrichment, and fuel fabrication, and identified a number of facilities intended for those purposes.

President Khatami's remarks raise serious questions about Iran's commitment to receive fresh fuel from Russia for the lifetime of the Bushehr reactor and to return all the spent fuel from Bushehr back to Russia. That agreement was made to ensure that Iran would not have the means to produce nuclear weapons. But as Mr. Boucher pointed out, Iran's decision to mine its own uranium and reprocess the spent fuel "would only make sense in the context of a [nuclear] weapons program."

An Iranian nuclear weapons program would give Iran the ability to attack other countries with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles and would be extremely destabilizing for an already volatile region.

Iran is also the most active state sponsor of international terrorism. Iran supports such groups as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestine Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. George Tenet, U.S. Director of Central Intelligence, told members of Congress that the U.S. is seeing indications that al-Qaida has established a presence in Iran.

Iran has provided terrorist groups with weapons and explosives. And as Mr. Tenet said, Iran is "moving toward self-sufficiency in its biological weapons and chemical weapons programs." Self-sufficiency would make it easier for Iran to use such weapons or provide them to terrorist groups.

The Bushehr nuclear reactor is costing Iran over a billion dollars, while its enrichment and heavy water production facilities are likely costing hundreds of millions of dollars more. That's a lot of money to spend on nuclear energy in a country with abundant oil and natural gas reserves. This is just one more indication that Iran's nuclear program could produce weapons of mass destruction. A nuclear-armed Iran that supports international terrorism would pose a serious threat indeed.