Iranian nuclear chief admits ties to Pakistan
Promises more uranium enrichment if EU talks fail
(Gold9472: Pakistan? Not Pakistan...)
Updated: 6:34 p.m. ET June 14, 2005
TEHRAN, Iran —It's the closest any Iranian official has come to admitting the role Pakistan played in the earliest stages of Iran's nuclear program.
In an exclusive interview with NBC News, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, acknowledged Pakistan's help.
"I do have information that some years ago, through intermediaries, we received pieces for centrifuges," he told NBC News in Farsi.
U.S. intelligence says those intermediaries were part of a network headed by A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program. Officials believe Khan earned more than $50 million selling nuclear expertise as well as equipment to Libya, North Korea and Iran. All are on the U.S. terrorist list.
Iran's chief nuclear official tried to downplay Khan's role. Khan confessed a year and a half ago and is under house arrest in Pakistan. But nuclear experts say all roads in Pakistan's nuclear program lead to Khan.
"Khan's help really jump-started the Iranian program," says Corey Hinderstein with the Institute for Science and International Security. "They may have been able to accomplish a centrifuge program on their own, but with the assistance of A.Q. Khan, and the kind of assistance he provided, it really leaped them forward."
The head of the nuclear program said Iran will not give up its nuclear ambitions.
"If there is an understanding that we will give up our nuclear program, that is a big mistake," said Aghazadeh via a translator.
He added that Iran is ready to guarantee it will not pursue nuclear weapons and offer other concessions in exchange for an end to international isolation.
Preston Mendenhall: Does Iran need a nuclear bomb?
Gholamreza Aghazadeh: No.
Mendenhall: Is Iran building a nuclear weapon?
Next month, Iran and the European Union will hold another round of talks, monitored closely by Washington. Aghazadeh said Tuesday if those talks don't go well, Iran is prepared to restart uranium enrichment, a process key to producing nuclear weapons.