By David R. Sands
THE WASHINGTON TIMES, October 6 – The Bush administration yesterday expressed concern about the role of Iran’s military in the country’s nuclear programs, saying it raised fresh fears that Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. government shares worries expressed by U.N. nonproliferation experts about the control of Iran’s nuclear programs, which the Islamic regime insists are intended solely for civilian energy uses.
"It stands to reason that the one logical conclusion of a military involvement in a nuclear program is they are trying to build a nuclear weapon," Mr. McCormack said in response to a report in yesterday’s editions of The Washington Times. "And that has been our concern for some time."
The board of governors of the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.’s main nonproliferation agency, concluded last month that Iran had violated past pledges to come clean about its nuclear programs and said the issue could be turned over to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
Negotiations between Iran and European Union powers France, Britain and Germany, designed to head off a Security Council referral, are on hold.
Separately, the official Iranian news service Islamic Republic News Agency reported yesterday that the country’s U.N. ambassador, Mohammad-Javad Zarif, seen as a moderating force in the clash with Washington and the West, had resigned from the Iranian nuclear negotiating team.
No reason was given, but some lawmakers in Iran’s parliament complained this week that the 2-month-old government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has stamped its hard-line views on the negotiations over Iran’s suspect nuclear programs.
"Sadly, the first action of the government was to change the nuclear negotiators and deprive itself of their expertise and the trust they built up," said lawmaker Hassan Afarideh, who is considered a moderate.
Mr. McCormack was careful to distance the Bush administration from a new report by the People’s Mujahadeen, also known as the Iranian Resistance or the Mujahadeen e Khalq (MEK) in Farsi, that raises the issue of military control of Iran’s nuclear program. The Paris-based exile group is vehemently opposed to the Islamic regime in Tehran.
The United States and many European governments consider MEK to be a terrorist organization.
But the group has proven a key intelligence source on Iranian nuclear activities in the past, exposing nuclear facilities and programs that were not known by either U.S. or IAEA officials.
The Washington Times first reported Tuesday on a major new MEK report, which detailed in part how leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Council, the military force set up to protect and preserve the 1979 Islamic Revolution, now dominate Mr. Ahmadinejad’s Cabinet and the national security council that oversees the nuclear negotiations.
Former Revolutionary Guards commander Ali Larijani, considered a leading hard-liner, heads the security council and is the lead negotiator with the IAEA.
Senior Revolutionary Guards Council commanders have been appointed to the council’s internal security, strategy and political posts in recent weeks as well.
Mr. McCormack noted that the IAEA itself has reported on Iranian military involvement in a nuclear centrifuge workshop and that a unit of the armed forces did nuclear-related work at a site in Lavizan that was destroyed before U.N. monitors could inspect it.
"This [MEK] report aside, there were pre-existing concerns and outstanding questions regarding the Iranian military role in their nuclear program," he said.
James Lucier, Washington project director of the Alliance for Democracy in Iran, said the ascendancy of the Revolutionary Guards veterans was particularly worrisome, as the Guard’s leaders were far more ideological and devoted to the ruling hard-line clerics than Iran’s conventional military forces.
"In some ways, it would have been better if the real Iranian military was in control" of the nuclear negotiations, he said.