PARIS (Reuters) - An exiled Iranian opposition group said on Thursday it had identified two previously unknown sites where it said Iran is working on developing high-explosive detonators for use in atomic bombs.
The Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said the sites were part of a unit affiliated with Iran’s ministry of defence called “Research Center for Explosion and Impact”, known under its Farsi language abbreviation Metfaz.
The NCRI’s information could not be verified.
The accusation came as international pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear programme has built up, with six world powers demanding on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic provide a “serious response” at talks on Oct. 1 or risk further sanctions.
Iran says its programme to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel is designed for peaceful electricity generation. Western countries, citing intelligence being pursued by U.N. nuclear inspectors, suspect it is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
Mehdi Abrishamchi, a senior NCRI official, said the centres appeared to be close to being able to produce viable detonator systems that would be vital components in any nuclear bomb.
“In my opinion, they are not very far,” he told a news conference in Paris but added: “It’s difficult to give any precise figures with these kind of issues.”
He provided an address in eastern Tehran as the site of a command and research centre where he said computerised simulations on penetration and impact were carried out.
He also gave another location, a village called Sanjarian some 30 kilometres to the east of the Iranian capital, which the NCRI said was the venue for manufacture of components used in the detonation systems.
Abrishamchi said the information had come from the group’s sources in Iran and had been gathered from “dozens of sources at different levels of the Iranian regime’s various organs”.
He said the NCRI had passed on the information to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog whose probe into intelligence allegations of past Iranian nuclear weapons research has been stonewalled by Tehran.
But the IAEA said last month the intelligence suggesting Iran linked projects to process uranium, test explosives at high altitude and revamp a missile cone in a way that would fit a nuclear warhead was compelling. It said Iran must do more to resolve suspicions than issue denials without backup evidence.
The NCRI, with thousands of followers in Europe and the United States, exposed Iranian uranium enrichment research in 2002 that had been hidden from the IAEA. Its subsequent record on reporting Iranian nuclear activity has been spotty.
It claims to have huge backing within Iran although Western analysts say its support is hard to gauge and is limited because of its collaboration with Iraq during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
The main faction within the NCRI opposition umbrella movement is the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), based in Iraq, which European states agreed this year to remove it from a list of banned terrorist groups.
Editing by Mark Heinrich and Samia Nakhoul