Iran arrests dozens of 'spies' for passing nuclear secrets

Posted in Iran | 01-Sep-04 | Author: Anne Penketh| Source: The Independent

Iranian workers at the Bushehr nuclear power plant. Iran's Intelligence Minister Ali Yunessi said 'several people' have been arrested for spying on the country's nuclear programme.

The Iranian government announced yesterday that a number of spies linked to an armed opposition movement had been arrested for passing on nuclear secrets to foreign enemies.

The announcement came as the United Nations prepared to release a report later today on Iran's co-operation with weapons inspectors. Western diplomats said that the report is expected to be "fairly positive" and will not reveal a "smoking gun" in Iran's suspected nuclear weapons programme.

"It doesn't reveal any new kind of discovery. In fact, over the last three months, Iran has provided some pretty decent cooperation," said a diplomat familiar with the report.

The United States has been threatening to report Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions over its failure to fully come clean about its nuclear programme, but today's report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) seems unlikely to provide enough evidence for such a move. The IAEA governors are to discuss the report at a meeting beginning on 13 September.

The US President, George Bush, stressed yesterday that diplomacy remained the best option for dealing with Iran, which confirmed in July that it had resumed building nuclear centrifuges, which can enrich uranium to weapons grade.

It was unclear yesterday whether there was a connection between the timing of the announcement about the arrest of dozens of spies and the latest IAEA report. Iran denies that it is building a nuclear weapon and insists that its programme is purely for civilian needs.

The Iranian Intelligence Minister, Ali Yunesi, said that most of those arrested were linked to the People's Mujaheddin organisation, or Mujaheddin Khalq.

"The hypocrites [People's Mujaheddin] had the lead role and they have boasted before about spying against Iran in a press conference in America," he added. "We have identified and arrested dozens of spies on various grounds." He did not give any other details.

The People's Mujaheddin are known as "the hypocrites" because of their association with Iran's arch-enemy, Iraq. The group is listed as a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union.

The group's political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), was the first to publicly mention at press conferences that Iran had failed to declare nuclear sites in Iran, which were subsequently investigated by the IAEA and later declared by Tehran.

A former spokesman for the NCRI, Alireza Jafarzadeh, said that none of his sources for the 2002 report had been arrested.

Mr Jafarzadeh said the arrests were a "hollow show of force right before the upcoming meeting of the IAEA board of governors, intended to overshadow the illegal efforts of the Iranian regime to acquire nuclear weapons".