John Kerry: U.S. looking into dissidents’ claims of new Iranian nuke cheating
Tells Congress doubts must be answered before deal can go forward
February 25, 2015
By Guy Taylor - The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2015 Secretary of State John F. Kerry said Wednesday that a final nuclear deal with Iran could be derailed if new allegations from an Iranian dissident group that Iran is running a secret uranium enrichment operation at a facility near Tehran prove true.
Mr. Kerry told lawmakers that U.S. officials knew of charges related the site prior to this week, but that “it has not been revealed yet as a nuclear facility.”
“It is a facility that we are well aware of, which is on a list of facilities we have,” the secretary of state said during a Capitol Hill budget hearing on Wednesday morning. “I’m not going to go into greater detail.”
“But these things are obviously going to have to be resolved as we go forward,” he said.
Mr. Kerry made the comments during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, in which lawmakers raised questions about the revelations Tuesday by the National Coalition of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a dissident group that claimed the secret facility has never before been revealed to international officials.
At a press conference, the group said the underground facility on the outskirts of Tehran is known as “Lavizan-3” and has been used for clandestine nuclear research since 2008 — as well as for uranium enrichment with advanced IR-2m and IR-4 centrifuge machines.
The NCRI’s claim was not immediately verifiable, and the dissident group is known for having a controversial history in Washington. However, the group is seen to have deep sources inside Iran’s nuclear community and its members are credited with having made game-changing revelations about Tehran’s activities in the past.
Most notably, during the early 2000s, similar NCRI claims exposed the existence of Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy-water plutonium facility — two operations that have been at the center of international scrutiny and distrust of Tehran during the years since then.
Rep. Brad Sherman, California Democrat, noted to Mr. Kerry Wednesday that “the MEK sometimes gives us accurate information.”
“They are the ones that told the world about the Iranian nuclear program,” Mr. Sherman said. “They now say that there’s a secret facility at Lavazza 3.”
Exile group accuses Iran of secret nuclear weapons research
By Carol Morello, The Washington Post, February 25, 2015
An Iranian exile group on Tuesday accused Iran’s government of conducting secret research with the aim of developing nuclear weapons, even as it is negotiating potential constraints on its ability to do so.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran said underground labs in suburban Tehran have been used since 2008 to enrich uranium. It said the plant, named Lavizan-3 after the neighborhood where many officers and their families live, is reached through tunnels leading from under a building ostensibly used to process passports and identity cards.
The claims could not be independently verified and U.S. officials initially declined to comment. On Wednesday, a State Department spokeswoman said officials “have no information at this time to support such a conclusion.”
“We have seen these claims and we take all such reports seriously,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Representatives of the opposition group, appearing at the National Press Club before a flag dating from pre-revolutionary Iran, detailed their claims as Secretary of State John F. Kerry testified before Congress, defending the administration’s ongoing nuclear talks with Iran.
Negotiators want to reach the broad outlines of an agreement by late March, though many highly complex technical details would still have to be hashed out before an interim agreement expires in late June.
The Iranian opposition group said Iran has lied about its nuclear program before, and no deal should be signed until Tehran agrees to inspections of the Lavizan-3 facility.
“It’s absolutely senseless to continue negotiations and decide the number of centrifuges you’re going to have if we have these serious issues lingering out there,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the group’s Washington office.
Over more than a decade, the NCRI has made several assertions about Iran’s nuclear program, not all of which have proved accurate. In 2002, however, the group exposed the existence of two nuclear-related plants, one in Natanz for uranium enrichment and a heavy water reactor near Arak.
Tehran hadn’t acknowledged either previously, and the discovery has fueled a level of distrust that persists to this day.
The latest claims come at a particularly sensitive time in the talks over Iran’s nuclear program. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to address Congress next week, where he is expected to assert that a deal with Iran is dangerous for Israel and the world.
His audience will include members of Congress, including some Democrats, who are skeptical of Iran’s claims that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, and many want to impose more sanctions on Iran.
The administration fears more sanctions will drive Iran away from the negotiating table, where it is talking with the United States and its partners — France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia — and to resume its uranium enrichment program.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran said the sources of its latest claims came from inside Iran, including from some who are in the government.
Satellite images the group culled from Google showed a large, walled complex of buildings at the foothills of the mountains outside Tehran. They also exhibited photographs purportedly taken inside the tunnel showing a steel door that they said was lined with lead to prevent radiation leaks.
Jafarzadeh said it took a full decade to gather intelligence about the facility. Most of it came from members of the controversial Mujahedin-e Khalq, which started out devoted to armed struggle against the shah and then kept fighting against the theocratic government that overthrew him. The MEK is part of the NCRI, and the State Department listed it as a terrorist organization until 2012.
Robert Einhorn, a senior fellow with the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said the allegations should be investigated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with monitoring Iran’s facilities. The IAEA declined to comment.
“Every credible lead like this has to be pursued,” Einhorn said. “I don’t think you can dismiss the allegations out of hand. But the background is this organization has been right sometimes and has sometimes been quite wrong.”
Iran opposition unveils 'secret' Tehran nuclear site
Agence France Presse
Washington: An exiled Iranian opposition group Tuesday accused Tehran of running a "secret" uranium enrichment site close to Tehran, which it said violated ongoing talks with global powers on a nuclear deal.
"Despite the Iranian regime's claims that all of its enrichment activities are transparent ... it has in fact been engaged in research and development with advanced centrifuges at a secret nuclear site called Lavizan-3," said Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran(NCRI).
He said the site was hidden in a military base in the northeastern suburbs of Tehran.
He presented to reporters a series of satellite images drawn from Google Maps which he said backed "this intelligence from highly placed sources within the Iranian regime as well as those involved in the nuclear weapons projects."
The Lavizan-3 site was apparently constructed between 2004 and 2008 and has underground labs connected by a tunnel.
"Since 2008, the Iranian regime has secretly engaged in research and uranium enrichment with advanced... centrifuge machines at this site," Jafarzadeh said.
The group had shared its information with the US administration, he added.
The existence of the site was "a clear violation" of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as UN resolutions and an interim November 2013 deal struck with global powers gathered in the P5+1 group, he said.
Under the interim accord, Iran agreed not to allow "any new locations for enrichment" and to provide IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, all information about its nuclear facilities.
"It is absolutely senseless to continue the negotiations," added Jafarzadeh.
The NCRI is a political umbrella of five Iranian opposition groups, the largest of which is the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which was once banned in Europe and the United States as a terror group.
The People's Mujahedeen has long opposed the nuclear negotiations, and with the NCRI has made several important revelations of the existence of secret nuclear sites in Iran.
The so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany is trying to strike an accord that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
In return, the West would ease sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program, which Iran insists is purely civilian in nature.
A new March 31 deadline is looming for agreement on a political framework, after two previous dates for a comprehensive deal were missed.
"Despite the Iranian regime's claims of transparency, these nuclear activities, today's intelligence, makes clear it has been continuing to lie for more than a decade," added NCRI member Soona Samsami.