2 December 2004 Edition

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Iran's nuclear threat

In 2001, as part of a deal with the Iranian Government to improve relations, and at the specific request of the Mullahs, the British Government added the Iranian resistance movement, the Mujaheddin e Khalq, or People's Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran (MEK) to its list of proscribed groups, officially branding it as a terrorist organisation.

The decision was greeted with outrage from several quarters, including human rights groups and from within British Houses of Parliament. Several MP and Lords denounced the decision and defended the MEK, pointing out that the organisation was dedicated to creating a democratic, secular Iran and also that no previous British Government had deemed proscription necessary, although the group had been in existence since the 1970s, until it was requested by a regime with one of the worst human rights records in the world.

The move, and the lack of debate which accompanied it, was criticised at the time by Lord Archer of Sandwell, who remarked that "there is something distasteful about a process which begins by convicting someone and then proceeds to inquire whether there is a case against them".

In exchange for a raft of concessions — including the outlawing of MEK — the Iranian Government undertook to freeze its nuclear programme and to co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for the purposes of verification. It reneged on the deal and has covertly continued with its programme. Furthermore, it has been effectively allowed by the international community to continuously stall IAEA inspections of suspect sites until they have been carefully sanitised.

Nevertheless, the British Government has continued to negotiate with the Iranian regime and its leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, offering additional concessions and the continued proscription of MEK in return for a repeated, but repeatedly unrealised, promise of a freeze on nuclear development.

At a conference in Westminster on 24 November, timed to take place before a meeting of the IAEA which began in Paris the following day, Farid Soleimani, member of Foreign Affairs Commission of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, contrasted this apparent laxity with the programme of inspections which were being carried out in Iraq at about the same time, and added that although MEK would not support military action by the US and their allies against Iran, it was "Iran, not Iraq, which should have been the first target of the world's attention" when it came to question of weapons of mass destruction.

Fared Sleimani, again supported by a number of British MPs and Lords, presented detailed evidence of Iran's continuing nuclear programme and suggested that this is in a sufficiently advanced state for the country's regime to have a deliverable nuclear weapon by the end of 2005. This would enable Iran to threaten not only its neighbours, but also major European centres. This, he said, made the Iranian Government "the single most dangerous regime in the world".

He revealed details of the secret programme being run by the Iranian Centre for the Development of Advanced Defence Technology (CDADT), a department of the Iranian MoD and named, for the first time, the key nuclear scientists involved in programme; Mohsen Fakhri-Zadeh, Fereydoon Abbasi, Mansoor Asgan, Mohammad Amin Bassam and Majid Rezazadeh.

Farid added that, although MEK was deeply opposed to much of US foreign policy, and particularly the war in Iraq, the organisation did support the US desire for the IAEA to bring Iran before the UN Security Council and for economic sanctions to be imposed as punishment for Iran's continuing attempt to develop a nuclear capability.

After the IAEA meeting concluded on 29 November, Iran once again promised to freeze its uranium enrichment programme, the key element to developing a nuclear weapon. It has, however, insisted on the right to continue nuclear "research and development" with twenty centrifuges, the devices needed to enrich uranium - the raw material for a nuclear device.

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