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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 10:39 GMT
US berates Iran over nuclear plans
Aerial view of Iran's first nuclear reactor (Bushehr)
Iran's nuclear industry is rapidly taking shape
The United States has condemned Iran's decision to begin mining and processing its own uranium for its nuclear power programme.

Iran's ambitious and costly pursuit of a complete nuclear fuel cycle only makes sense if it's in support of a nuclear weapons programme

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher

On Sunday, President Mohammad Khatami announced that deposits of uranium had been discovered in Iran for the first time. He said the country was now ready to produce nuclear energy for civilian use without outside help.

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington had "very grave concerns that Iran is using its supposedly peaceful nuclear programme, including construction of a reactor at Bushehr, as a pretext for advancing a nuclear weapons programme".

The US, which last year labelled Iran as part of an "axis of evil", considers the Islamic Republic a state sponsor of terrorism.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are due to visit Tehran later this month to assess the country's nuclear programme.

Tehran says nations have "an undeniable right" to pursue nuclear programmes "for peaceful and beneficial purposes".

Mining programme

President Khatami announced on Sunday that uranium was being mined in the Savand area, 200 kilometres (125 miles) from the historic city of Yazd, and processing facilities had been set up in the central cities of Isfahan and Kashan.

Satellite image of Arak site
The US believes Iran's new facilities could produce nuclear weapons
On Monday, the head of Iran's atomic energy agency said construction had begun on a plant that would produce enriched uranium, a potential ingredient of nuclear weapons.

"We still have a long way to go to have this plant come on-stream," Gholamreza Agazadeh was reported to say on television.

Uranium must be enriched to be used, either slightly enriched for nuclear fuel or heavily enriched for a bomb.

Inspection offer

Iran has offered to let the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, inspect its facilities during an already scheduled visit on 25-26 February.

Atomic ambitions
First nuclear plant comes online by summer 2004
Has signed up to the Nuclear Weapons Non-Proliferation Treaty
Can now supply its own power stations with nuclear fuel
The United States has expressed concern over Russia supplying nuclear technology to Iran.

Although Tehran says it is pursuing a nuclear programme for energy production only, the US last year produced satellite photographs of Iranian sites it says could be used for producing nuclear weapons.

President Khatami appeared to suggest in a televised statement on Sunday that Iran wished to retain spent nuclear fuel - a component in the production of nuclear weapons - from its future power plants.

Iran says it needs nuclear energy to help supply the electricity needs of its 65 million people.

Washington has suggested that the country's vast existing oil and gas resources are already adequate.

To date, Iran has only one, Russian-built reactor, near the south-western port of Bushehr, which is due to be commissioned either in late 2003 or the early summer of 2004. The contract is worth about $800m to Moscow.

See also:

11 Feb 03 | Middle East
26 Dec 02 | Middle East
14 Dec 02 | Middle East
16 Aug 02 | Middle East
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