Iran lawmaker: Country can produce nuclear weapons

ALI AKBAR DAREINI Associated Press Published:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has the knowledge and scientific capability to produce nuclear weapons but will never do so, a prominent lawmaker said.

Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghadam said Iran can easily produce the highly enriched uranium that is used to build atomic bombs but it is not Tehran's policy to go that route.

"Iran has the scientific and technological capability to produce (a) nuclear weapon, but will never choose this path," Moghadam told the parliament's news website, icana.ir, late Friday.

Moghadam is a parliamentarian not a government official and his views do not represent the Iranian government's policy. It is the first time that a prominent Iranian politician has publicly stated that Iran has the technological capability to produce a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges, saying its program is peaceful and geared toward generating electricity and producing radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly insisted that his country is not seeking nuclear weapons, saying that holding such arms is a sin as well as "useless, harmful and dangerous."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also asserted that if Iran one day decides to build nuclear weapons, it will do so openly and won't fear anybody.

Iran says it is enriching uranium to about 3.5 percent to produce nuclear fuel for its future reactors and also to around 20 percent to fuel a research reactor that produces medical isotopes to treat cancer treatment. Uranium has to be enriched to more than 90 percent to be used for a nuclear weapon.

The U.N. nuclear agency has also confirmed that centrifuges at the Fordo site near Iran's holy city of Qom are churning out uranium enriched to 20 percent, and says uranium enriched to that level can more quickly be turned into weapons-grade material.

Moghadam, the lawmaker, said that Iran has the means to produce 90-plus percent enrichment.

"There is a possibility for Iran to easily achieve more than 90 percent enrichment," icana.ir quoted Moghadam as saying.