U.S. casts doubt on secret Iran nuke facility

Oren Dorrell — USA Today Feb 26, 2015

The State Department on Thursday cast doubt on claims by an Iranian dissident group that it has discovered a secret underground Iranian nuclear facility.

“We’ll look into the reports,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, using the Persian initials of the group, also known as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). “We don’t have any information at this point in time to suggest the (NCRI) conclusions are accurate.”

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the U.S. government knows of the site, but not its purpose.

“We’re well aware of the allegations regarding that facility,” Kerry said. “Obviously any questions will have to be answered to have any kind of an agreement” with Iran on its nuclear program, which the U.S. is trying to curb.

NCRI alleged at a news conference Tuesday that its network of dissidents within the Iranian regime reported on a complex of tunnels where Iran is conducting research and development on advanced machines for the production of fuel for nuclear weapons. The doors were built to prevent radiation leaks, according to NCRI’s spokesman, Alireza Jafarzadeh.

A new secret site would be important because Iran and world powers — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — are attempting to negotiate an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. They face a March 24 deadline to reach a framework agreement and a June deadline for a final accord.

Iran denies it has a nuclear weapons program and has not officially responded to NCRI’s allegations. However, the Iranian government pointed to an anonymous website post that questioned an altered photograph provided by NCRI to reporters during its presentation about the site Tuesday.

NCRI said the photo showed one of four vault-like doors used to prevent radiation leaks at the entrances of four underground halls where the Iranian military is conducting research and development on nuclear fuel production.

An uncropped version of that photo was posted Feb. 12 to the website of GMP Safes, an Iranian vault-door manufacturer, which shows the door sitting in a large room above ground, with sunlight streaming in from windows.

David Albright, a nuclear expert who is president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said the cropped photo adds to legitimate questions about NCRI’s allegations.

Such heavy vault doors are no better at minimizing radiation than thinner doors, but the task would require a more complicated system that prevents air from passing through a single set of doors when they’re open, he said.

“The basic story raises questions about its authenticity. They may have answers but the questions raise further doubts,” Albright said. “The claims are so controversial that any manipulated evidence casts doubt on the whole story.”

Jafarzadeh on Thursday said NCRI stands behind its report, which he said is buttressed by details, such as identifying the involvement of Morteza Behzad, an engineer who worked at the underground nuclear fuel facility at Fordow, another once-secret site.

The photo was taken in the workshop where the door was built, before it was moved and installed underground, Jafarzadeh told USA TODAY. It was cropped, he said, to avoid identifying the facility and protect NCRI’s sources.

If NCRI knew the photo had been posted to GMP Safe’s website, “we wouldn’t have used it, because it casts doubt,” he said.

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