BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – An exiled Iranian opposition group on Tuesday contested a U.S. intelligence report that said Tehran halted a nuclear weapons development program in 2003, insisting the bomb-making program resumed the following year.
“We announce vehemently that the clerical regime is currently continuing its drive to obtain nuclear weapons,” said Mohammad Mohaddessin, a spokesman for the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCRI.
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate released last week said that Iran halted a nuclear weapons development program in 2003 because of international pressure. Mohaddessin told a news conference that Iran appeared to have duped U.S. intelligence into that conclusion.
“The clerical regime leaks false information and intelligence to Western intelligence services, through double agents,” he said.
Mohaddessin said Iran did shut down a Tehran weapons program center known as Lavizan-Shian in 2003 under international pressure and demolished the site. However, Mohaddessin claimed the Iranian authorities shifted their weapons program to other sites, which resumed the work in 2004.
In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected the group’s assertions. “Wrong information from non-credible sources has led them (the Americans) astray (in the past),” he told a news conference in the Iranian capital. “You should not bank on information from non-credible sources.”
The NCRI is the political wing of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, an opposition group that advocates the overthrow of government in Tehran. The Mujahedeen have been designated a terrorist group by Iran and by both the United States and the European Union. “This group can’t be the source of correct information,” Ahmadinejad said, pointing to past attacks by the group that killed Iranian civilians.
It was not possible to independently verify the NCRI claims, which Mohaddessin said came from sources within Iran, including some among staff at covert nuclear plants.
Four years ago, the group disclosed information about two hidden nuclear sites that helped uncover nearly two decades of covert Iranian atomic activity. But much of the information it has presented since then to back up claims that Iran has a secret weapons program has not been publicly verified.
The International Atomic Energy Agency declined to comment on the latest claims.
Mohaddessin said Iran was continuing to develop nuclear weapons technology at a site near the original plant in the Tehran neighborhood of Lavizan and other units around the country. He said the group had checked with its sources in the past week and discovered that the centers were still working. “These centers are working just now for producing nuclear bombs. This is contrary to the United States’ National Intelligence Estimate,” he said.
Iran claims its nuclear development is peaceful and aimed at producing energy.