Iran Nuclear NewsPowell Firm on Iran Allegations

Powell Firm on Iran Allegations

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Los Angeles Times: Secretary of State Colin L. Powell stands by his charge that Iran is working on a missile system to
deliver a nuclear bomb and believes the intelligence he cited in making the accusation is sound, State Department officials said Friday. Los Angeles Times

By Sonni Efron

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin L. Powell stands by his charge that Iran is working on a missile system to deliver a nuclear bomb and believes the intelligence he cited in making the accusation is sound, State Department officials said Friday.

Powell’s unscripted remarks Wednesday, apparently based on classified information, have created a furor, with some sources saying his intelligence on an Iranian effort to put warheads on missiles was weak. U.S. officials countered the criticism in comments in Washington and South America.

“The information was good enough to talk about,” a senior State Department official said in Santiago, Chile, where Powell was attending an Asia-Pacific economic summit.

“The secretary did not misspeak,” department spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington. “The secretary knows exactly what he was talking about.”

Ereli declined to discuss the information underlying Powell’s remarks but said the specific allegation came against the backdrop of long-standing U.S. charges that Iran had been trying to develop nuclear weapons.

“We believe we are on very, very solid ground in pointing to a clandestine effort by Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems,” Ereli said, adding that the U.S. would continue to press its case diplomatically. Iran insists that its nuclear programs are for peaceful civilian purposes.

Powell’s remarks surprised and confused the arms control community as well as European allies who last weekend reached a deal with Iran on its nuclear programs. Under the agreement, Tehran will freeze its uranium enrichment efforts in exchange for trade concessions.

The agreement and how to verify that Iran is complying with it will be the subject of intensive discussions at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday.

U.S. officials said Powell’s remarks were not intended to undermine the agreement, which was negotiated by Britain, France and Germany. But analysts said Powell was putting out a marker that the freeze on enrichment — even if it can be verified — addresses only one of many U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Arms control experts have also been concerned about the testing of Iran’s new Shahab-3 medium-range missile in August.

“You don’t redesign your reentry vehicle, which is … a lot of work, unless you have something specific you want to put in there,” said Patrick Clawson, an Iran watcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The Bush administration has also raised with the IAEA its growing concern that Iran is working on a nuclear warhead design, Clawson said. He said government officials had provided the agency with satellite photos showing a site outside Tehran suitable for testing high explosives. Clawson questioned whether such sites would be accessible to IAEA inspectors.

In Vienna, diplomats told news services that Iran was producing large amounts of a gas used in the enrichment process, days before it must halt such work under the new accord.

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