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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iran Admits Foreign Nuke Help

WASHINGTON -- Iran has admitted for the first time that it received substantial foreign help in building a secret nuclear facility south of Tehran that is now beginning to enrich uranium, turning it into a key ingredient in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, according to UN documents and diplomatic sources.

While Iran has not yet identified the source of the foreign help, evidence collected in Iran by the UN nuclear watchdog agency implicates Pakistani companies as suppliers of critical technology and parts, officials familiar with a UN investigation of Iran's program said. Pakistan is believed by many experts to have passed important nuclear secrets to both Iran and North Korea. Pakistan has denied providing such assistance.

The latest disclosure came as the UN group, the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that Iran had only partially complied with demands to open its nuclear program to scrutiny. The IAEA, in a confidential report, said Iran had not fully accounted for activities that have spurred fears that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Over the past 18 months, Iran has begun work on major facilities for processing and enriching uranium, while simultaneously building a separate reactor that can be used in the production of plutonium. The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush contends that the facilities are part of an accelerated campaign to build nuclear weapons.

Iran's claim of a purely peaceful nuclear program suffered a blow last month when IAEA inspectors discovered traces of highly enriched uranium at a newly constructed facility in Natanz, 200 miles south of Tehran. Iran had denied making enriched uranium at Natanz or any other facility prior to June of this year.

In a new attempt to explain the discrepancy, Iran has told UN nuclear officials that the uranium came into the country on contaminated equipment purchased from another country -- specifically, on metal machine parts used in gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium.

"In the past, Iran had claimed that the technology was indigenous, and they were quite proud of that," said one European diplomatic official familiar with the IAEA's findings. "Now they're saying they did get a lot of help. This was a major change in the story."

The equipment said to be tainted was from a type of centrifuge acquired by Pakistani scientists in the 1970s and used in Pakistan's domestic nuclear program, two officials said.

Iran told inspectors it acquired design plans for the centrifuge in 1987, although the transfer of technology appears to have continued over several years, officials said. Iranian officials promised to provide a full account of where it acquired each piece of equipment and how it was used, the officials said

Pakistan has never acknowledged providing uranium-enrichment technology to Iran. One of only a handful of countries that remain outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Pakistan technically is not bound by many of the international restrictions on the export of nuclear technology.

"They have clearly not been forthcoming in the past with the actual facts and details about their secret nuclear programs, and that's what's been of great concern to us," said State Department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker.

Reeker repeated the White House demand that Iran agree to more intrusive, "snap" inspections of its nuclear sites to ease concerns that it might be building nuclear weapons.

"It's going to be crucial to see whether Iran is willing to follow through with accepting the same protocol that other non-weapons states have accepted," he said.