Iran denies aiding Assad in alleged nuclear project

Foreign minister says ‘ridiculous’ Der Speigel report aims to discredit the Islamic Republic’s own program

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a press conference in Tehran on August 31, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Atta Kenare)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at a press conference in Tehran on August 31, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Atta Kenare)

Iran on Sunday dismissed as “ridiculous” a report that it had supported Syrian President Bashar Assad in alleged efforts to construct a secret underground nuclear plant.

Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine had reported on Friday that Assad was seeking nuclear weapons, adding that the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which has provided military support to Assad’s regime in the bloody conflict in Syria, has been guarding the secret project. The report said North Korean and Iranian experts were involved in the project development.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected the report, which he said aimed to discredit the Islamic Republic’s own contested nuclear program.

“The magazine’s allegation is one of the attempts made by those circles whose life has been based on violence and fear to cloud the international community with illusion and create imaginary concerns about the Islamic Republic, and this is a ridiculous claim,” Zarif was quoted by the semi-official Fars news agency as saying.

The foreign minister also insisted, based on an Islamic edict issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that “we believe that all nuclear weapons should be dismantled.”

Citing information made available by unidentified intelligence sources, Der Spiegel reported Friday that the Syrian plant was located in an inaccessible mountain region in the west of the war-ravaged country, two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Lebanese border.

It is deep underground, near the town of Qusayr and has access to electricity and water supplies, the magazine said in a pre-released version of the story made available ahead of Saturday’s publication.

It said it had had access to “exclusive documents,” satellite photographs and intercepted conversations thanks to intelligence sources.

Western experts suspect, based on the documents, that a reactor or an enrichment plant could be the aim of the project, whose codename is “Zamzam,” Der Spiegel said.

The Syrian regime has transferred 8,000 fuel rods to the plant that had been planned for a facility at Al-Kibar, it added.

In 2007, a bombing raid on an undeclared Syrian nuclear facility at al-Kibar was widely understood to have been an Israeli strike, but it was never acknowledged by the Jewish state.

Der Spiegel said North Korean and Iranian experts are thought to be part of the “Zamzam” project.

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