Briefing by Spokesperson Richard Boucher on Developments in Iran’s Nuclear Program (Excerpts)

December 13, 2002

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QUESTION: If we can move on to Iran, there are some reports out there about Iran potentially developing some major nuclear sites, perhaps for development of a nuclear weapon. Can you speak to this?

MR. BOUCHER: I can, because we have, I think, spoken often before about our concerns about Iran's nuclear programs. Iran's nuclear programs, and programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, are well known. They're based on hard evidence and they are programs that the United States Government reports on very frequently. I think there's actually a six-month report that covers this, the 721 Report.

The reports that you've seen of secret facilities in Iran reinforce our already grave concern that Iran is seeking technology to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The suspect uranium enrichment plant, for example, could be used to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons. The heavy water plant could support a reactor for producing weapons-grade plutonium.

These facilities are not justified by the needs of Iran's civilian nuclear program. There is no economic gain for a state that's rich in oil and gas like Iran to build costly nuclear fuel cycle facilities. I would point out that Iran flares more gas annually than the equivalent energy its desired reactors would produce.

We have discussed these two particular sites with a number of friends and allies who share our concerns. These sites, I think, were discussed publicly in August, if I remember correctly, some of the first revelations about them in public. We've also talked about these two sites with the IAEA and others.

Iran has tried to hide these important facilities, and the United States will continue to emphasize our longstanding effort to get agreement from all countries to refrain from nuclear cooperation with Iran and to thwart Iran's covert efforts to buy or acquire sensitive nuclear equipment and expertise.

At this point, the International Atomic Energy Agency is pursuing the matter with Iran. Unfortunately, Iran repeatedly rebuffed IAEA requests for access to the sites. As Dr. El Baradei has said, he was supposed to visit this week to see these sites and they have pushed that back now again till February.

So we look forward to a report from Dr. El Baradei to the IAEA Board of Governors at the appropriate time and we would encourage Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and furthermore, to adopt the standards of disclosure that all the other governments in the world have accepted.

In 1992, the International Atomic Energy Agency called on all states to commit themselves to an early declaration of all their nuclear facilities, and all other International Atomic Energy Agency states with safeguarded materials have accepted this obligation to provide complete design information on new facilities no later than 180 days before the start of construction. So Iran has not accepted that obligation. As a first step, that is something they should do.

QUESTION: In talking to your friends and allies and others interested, have you made any progress with the Russians in talks with the Russians about their assistance, the assistance they have been providing?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have any particular update on that. I'd have to check and see where we are. I think it's safe to say it's a matter of continuing discussion with the Russians.

QUESTION: Do you know whether the Secretary actually brought that up yesterday when he spoke with Ivanov?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if they specifically discussed Iran. I know they discussed the Iraqi declaration, the process of reaching a working version of the Iraqi declaration, and North Korea. I just don't remember if Iran came up or not.

QUESTION: Could you elaborate on what you mean when you say Iran has tried to hide these things? What have they done to hide things?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, the circumstances of this particular - these particular sites are actually fairly interesting and lead to the conclusion that this nuclear program that Iran has is not peaceful and is certainly not transparent. As I said, we have reached the conclusion that Iran is actively working to develop nuclear weapons capability.

From the commercial satellite imagery, I think you can tell that portions of the Natanz nuclear facility, the suspect uranium enrichment plant, ultimately will be underground. It appears from the imagery that a service road, several small structures, and perhaps three large structures, are being built below grade, and some of these are already being covered with earth.

Iraq - Iran clearly intended to harden and bury that facility. That facility was probably never intended by Iran to be a declared component of a peaceful program. Instead, Iran has been caught constructing a secret underground site where it could produce fissile material.

I think that's the latest example. We've always talked about the Bushehr reactor, which will be subject to IAEA safeguards, but said that that is being used as a cover and a pretext for obtaining sensitive technologies related to weapons programs. So I think we have found, in Iran's programs, that there are these attempts to hide, to cover, and in this case, to build a facility that's partially buried.


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