WASHINGTON — New evidence suggests Iran has made significant progress in its pursuit of nuclear weapons and that should strengthen the case for increasing international pressure on Tehran to end the program, U.S. and European officials say.
The data, which in recent months was shared with the International Atomic Energy Agency and key countries, is “not definitive (but) it is strongly suggestive that Iran has made significant advancement toward weaponization,” one U.S. official told Reuters.
Another U.S. official said that “no one is portraying this as definitive (but) it’s one more piece of a strong circumstantial case that they are pursing a nuclear weapon.”
The officials, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, gave no details of the documents.
Nuclear experts have been saying for months that the fact that U.S. claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities proved largely false is fueling doubts about intelligence on Iran.
The New York Times reported on its Web site on Saturday that in mid-July, senior American intelligence officials called the leaders of the IAEA to the top of a skyscraper overlooking the Danube in the Austrian capital Vienna and unveiled the contents of what they said was a stolen Iranian laptop computer.
The Americans showed data from more than 1,000 pages of Iranian computer simulations and accounts of experiments, saying they showed a long effort to design a nuclear warhead, the newspaper reported, quoting European and American participants in the meeting.
‘STRONGEST EVIDENCE YET’
The newspaper said the U.S. officials argued the data was “the strongest evidence yet that, despite Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful, the country is trying to develop a compact warhead to fit atop its Shahab missile, which can reach Israel and other countries in the Middle East.”
Iran, which kept a uranium enrichment program secret for 18 years until 2003, is facing referral to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions after failing to convince the international community its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful.
The New York Times said Iranian officials denied any knowledge of the warhead plans.
“We are sure that there are no such documents in Iran,” the paper quoted Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, as saying in an interview in Tehran. “I have no idea what they have or what they claim to have. We just hear the claims.”
A U.S. official and a European official told Reuters that technical experts, including at the IAEA, who got the briefing were quite concerned at what the data shows.
But The New York Times said that apart from Britain, France and Germany — which have joined Washington in demanding that Iran halt suspicious nuclear activities — other countries remain skeptical.
Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman for an Iranian opposition group which first disclosed Tehran’s secret activities in 2002 and has since revealed other details of the nuclear program, said his group was not the source of the stolen laptop.
But Gobadi said in a telephone interview and an e-mail from Paris that his group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, had also acquired evidence Iran “is working on nuclear warheads.”
The nuclear warhead project is being carried out by Shahid Karimi Industrial Group in the Hemmat Complex, northeast of Tehran, said Gobadi, whose group is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations.
Nuclear warheads and missiles are also being developed at the Parchin military site, 20 miles southeast of Tehran, he said.
By reverse-engineering a cruise missile it obtained from Ukraine, Iran has “mastered the technology to produce (nuclear-capable) cruise missiles and is making great progress toward this end,” Gobadi said.