AP: An explosion was reported Wednesday in southern Iran near a nuclear power plant, with state-run media offering conflicting explanations for what happened, from blasting for dam construction, a fuel tank dropping from an Iranian plane, and friendly fire. The explosion came as Iran’s intelligence
chief accused the United States of flying spy drones over its nuclear sites and threatened to shoot down the aircraft. Associated Press
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran – An explosion was reported Wednesday in southern Iran near a nuclear power plant, with state-run media offering conflicting explanations for what happened, from blasting for dam construction, a fuel tank dropping from an Iranian plane, and friendly fire.
The explosion came as Iran’s intelligence chief accused the United States of flying spy drones over its nuclear sites and threatened to shoot down the aircraft. But a spokesman for Iran’s Interior Ministry said the blast was heard minutes after an Iranian airplane flew over the southwestern port town of Deylam, about 110 miles north of the nuclear plant, and had not been caused by a hostile attack.
A top security official said the blast came during construction of a dam, state-run television reported.
“The explosion that occurred in Deylam region was the result of detonating a path for dam-building operations,” Ali Agha Mohammadi, a spokesman of the Supreme National Security Council, was quoted as saying.
Mohammadi said Iran’s enemies were not in a position to attack Iran. “Such reports are mostly a psychological war,” he said.
Earlier, state television said the explosion may have been caused by a fuel tank dropping from an Iranian plane. Rescue teams were sent to the area, state-run al-Alam television said, without elaborating.
The Interior Ministry spokesman, Jahanbakhsh Khanjani, said there was a military base at Bushehr, and Iranian air force planes routinely fly in that area.
“There is a big possibility that it was a friendly fire by mistake. Several such mistaken friendly fire incidents have been reported there in recent days,” he said.
Asked if military maneuvers were taking place in the region, he deferred to the Defense Ministry, whose officials were not immediately available.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, asked if there was no U.S. involvement in the incident in Iran, replied: “That’s correct.”
CIA Director Porter Goss, at a Senate briefing, said, “I know nothing in my official position.”
Goss said he had heard the media report about the falling fuel tank, but added, “I have no idea if that’s true or not.”
Israeli military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, quickly denied any connection with the explosion. In 1981, the Israeli air force destroyed a nuclear reactor the Iraqis were building near Baghdad.
Oil prices hit an overnight high of $48.30 after reports of the explosion and after OPEC predicted increased oil demand.
The United States accuses Iran of having a secret program to manufacture nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its nuclear program is entirely for generating electricity.
The Washington Post reported the drones had been flying over Iran from U.S. military bases in Iraq and were equipped with air filters to pick up traces of nuclear activity.
In December, the Iranian air force was ordered to shoot down any unknown flying objects. At the time, there were reports in Iranian newspapers that Iran had discovered spying devices in unmanned planes its air defense force had shot down.
On Wednesday, Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi made comments backing the Post’s Sunday report quoting unidentified U.S. officials as saying American drones have been flying over Iran for nearly a year to seek evidence of nuclear weapons programs.
“Most of the shining objects that our people see in Iran’s airspace are American spying equipment used to spy on Iran’s nuclear and military facilities,” the minister told reporters.
He said they would not reveal anything the United States does not already know and added that the objects would be shot down. Most of the flying objects were spotted near the central cities of Natanz, which has a uranium enrichment plant, and Isfahan, which has a facility for producing uranium hexaflouride gas, the feedstock for enriching uranium.
Moscow announced last year it had completed most of the construction at Bushehr, but about 1,000 Russian specialists are still there working to finish the reactor and ready it for startup perhaps as early as the end of 2005, according to Nikolai Shingaryov, a spokesman for Russian nuclear chief Alexander Rumyantsev.
Talks between Moscow and Tehran continue over shipping used nuclear fuel to Russia, as a way to ensure it is not used to make nuclear weapons.
Rumyantsev is set to visit Iran Feb. 26-27 to sign the fuel return deal, Shingaryov told The Associated Press. First shipments of nuclear fuel for the Bushehr plant could be delivered within a month or two after the signing, he said.
The United States fears that the $800 million Bushehr deal could help Tehran build nuclear weapons. Russia says that having Iran ship spent nuclear fuel back to Russia will make such projects impossible.
International nuclear experts have expressed doubts that the protocol – which has been postponed repeatedly for close to four years – will be signed before the United Nations resolves ongoing foreign concerns over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency, is investigating nearly two decades of covert nuclear activity by Iran. Tehran maintains its program is meant to generate electricity, but Washington claims it is a weapons program.