U.S. Money Supports Iran's Nuclear Program: U.N. Agency Aids Suspected Arms Project

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A U.S.-funded United Nations agency is providing important support services for an Iranian nuclear reactor that is expected to provide fuel for Tehran's suspected atomic weapons program, according to a U.S. report.

The International Atomic Energy Agency "has budgeted for 1995 through 1999 about $1.3 million in technical assistance related to Iran's efforts to complete the plant" at the Persian Gulf city of Bushehr, said a General Accounting Office report.

"As of May 1997, about $250,000 of this amount has been spent for two of [three] projects," said the GAO report released on Sept. 16.

The projects were identified as the training of Iranian reactor personnel to keep the system safe, establishing a center to train managers and inspectors for the reactor complex, and building a nuclear technology center to support the operation of the reactor.

An IAEA spokeswoman in New York said yesterday that staffers in her office "have not seen the GAO report and we cannot comment on it at this point."

Hundreds of Russian technicians are helping build the Bushehr reactor under an $800 million contract. Nuclear experts say the reactor will be able to produce every known kind of plutonium isotope, including those best suited to making nuclear weapons.

Russian officials have defended their involvement in the program by saying that supposedly "clean" reactors being built by a U.S.-led consortium for North Korea are of the same design as the reactor at Bushehr.

"That is absolutely true," said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington. But he said both the North Korean and Iranian reactors will produce material that can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Iran is also developing medium-range missiles capable of reaching Israel or Central Europe with nuclear warheads.

Martin Indyk, who has been nominated to be assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this month that Iran was only a year to 18 months away from completing its development of the Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 missiles.

The GAO said its study found that the IAEA had provided technical assistance not only to Iran's nuclear program, but also to North Korea and Cuba, "all countries where the United States is concerned about nuclear proliferation and threats to nuclear safety."

From 1987 to 1994, "the IAEA spent about $396,000 in technical assistance for two projects on uranium prospecting and exploration in North Korea," the GAO report said. That assistance included "a considerable amount of uranium exploration equipment . …