Iran negotiator announces: We duped West on nukes

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, in a speech to the nation's leading Islamic clerics and academics, has admitted what many in U.S. intelligence have been saying all along � namely, Tehran duped the West on its nuclear program by continuing its development while using diplomatic talks to lull the Europeans into inaction.

Hassan Rowhani led talks with the EU3 � Germany, France and the UK � until last year and part of his job, reports the London Telegraph, was to play for time after Iran's nuclear program was exposed by dissidents in 2002.

At the closed meeting of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, Rowhani boasted that during talks to forestall Iran's nuclear program, which intelligence sources in the U.S. saw as part of an effort to build nuclear weapons, Tehran completed the installation of equipment needed to convert yellowcake at its Isfahan plant. The Europeans, he said, were convinced nothing was occurring at the plant.

"From the outset, the Americans kept telling the Europeans, 'The Iranians are lying and deceiving you and they have not told you everything.' The Europeans used to respond, 'We trust them'," he said.

Rowhani's frankness, it appears, was motivated by internal criticisms from hardliners that he had negotiated away too much in recent talks with the Europeans. His comments, published in a journal available to the regime's elite, seem designed to defend his performance.

"When we were negotiating with the Europeans in Teheran we were still installing some of the equipment at the Isfahan site," he said. "There was plenty of work to be done to complete the site and finish the work there. In reality, by creating a tame situation, we could finish Isfahan."

Rowhani's diplomatic skills were severely tested in September 2003 when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demanded a "complete picture" of Iran's program.

"The dilemma was if we offered a complete picture, the picture itself could lead us to the U.N. Security Council," he said. "And not providing a complete picture would also be a violation of the resolution and we could have been referred to the Security Council for not implementing the resolution."

He also revealed two occasions where the IAEA learned of secret experiments from academic papers published by Iranian scientists.

Libya's decision to negotiate with the U.S. and Britain to end its own nuclear program brought to light the proliferation network run by Pakistan atomic scientist A.Q. Khan. Khan's role in supplying nuclear-related equipment to Libya, revealed in surrendered documents, also exposed the fact he had supplied advanced centrifuges to Iran.

Revelations of Rowhani's candor come on the eve of tomorrow's IAEA meeting to reassess Iran's banned nuclear operations. According to U.N. protocol, the IAEA review is the final step before Tehran's case is forwarded to the Security Council, where, if the facts dictate, sanctions may be imposed.

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