The project, initiated at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1989, involves dozens of immense tunnels and facilities built under the mountains near Tehran, Iranian opposition sources reported Monday. The information was first released in September, but the involvement of North Korean experts, and the report that Iran's missile production has reached an advanced stage, brings a new twist to Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In his 2002 State of the Union address Bush named Iran and North Korea in his "Axis of Evil." The third member of the axis was Iraq.
"North Korean experts have cooperated with the Tehran regime in the design and building of this complex," said Alireza Jafarzadeh, president of Strategic Policy Consulting, and a former representative of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. "Many blueprints of the site have been prepared by North Korean experts."
While the U.S. president will most certainly be advised of these new developments, his options are, in fact restricted. As a sovereign nation, Iran has the right to process uranium for peaceful means, as it says it intends to. However, under international agreements it does not have the right to develop nuclear weapons.
From a purely Iranian perspective it might be easy to understand why the Islamic republic would want to arm itself with nuclear weapons. A simple look at the map shows that several of its neighbors -- Pakistan, India, Russia and Israel -- are all nuclear-armed. And the U.S. invasion of Iraq only served to enforce Iran's belief that possessing weapons of mass destruction will deter any design the United States may have of sending American G.I.s marching into Tehran.
Furthermore, Iran's hard-line leaders are counting on the fact that an invasion of Iran by the U.S. military is out of the question. Iran is not Iraq. The country is far larger, more populated and unlike the mostly flat terrain that lies between Basra and Baghdad that took only three weeks for the U.S. army to traverse, Iran is more mountainous making it difficult for tank warfare.
The United States' formidable and superior aerial firepower could not be used in the densely populated areas where many of Iran's nuclear facilities are reported to be situated.
Chances are the Bush administration would not move without a U.N. Security Council resolution (as it did in Iraq), but the odds of China and Russia backing military action against Iran are highly unlikely. And the U.S. military is already stretched thin with troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Iran will play for time as it continues to build up its nuclear program, hoping they can outlast Bush's term in the White House. Tehran will negotiate on and off with the EU-3 and the Russians, getting them to do their bidding for them.
Jafarzadeh, the Iranian dissident, reported that Hemmat Industries Group Factory, the most important branch of Iran's Aerospace Industries Group is currently building Shahab-1, Shahab-2, Shahab-3 and Ghadar missiles. Shahab-3 and Ghadar missiles have nuclear warhead capability.
"Shahab-3 missiles are being manufactured in large numbers, and are already part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards arsenal," Jafarzadeh told United Press International. The Ghadar missile is still in the production stage, and is 70 percent complete.
The Shahab-3 has a range of 1,300 to 1,900 km (800-1,100 miles) and Ghadar has a range of 2,500 to 3,000 km (1,150-1,850 miles). This places several eastern European cities and all Middle Eastern cities, including most of Israel, within Tehran's range.
Working in utmost secrecy, Hemmat Industries Group have been allocated code numbers in order to avoid intelligence slip-ups. Movahed Industries, codenamed 7,500, builds the body of the missile and does final assembly. Karimi Industries, the most secretive part of the program, codenamed 2500, builds the warhead.
This group is located in the largest tunnel at the Khojir complex deep inside the Khojir and Bar Jamali Mountain. The tunnel is about 1,000 meters (yards) long, 12 meters wide.
Iran has refused to allow U.N. inspectors to visit the military sites where much of the nuclear weapons work is reported to be conducted.
Information obtained by Jafarzadeh from sources inside Iran indicates that A.Q. Khan, the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear bomb, traveled to Iran in 1987 where he met with three top commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who were working on nuclear research at the time. The IRGC delegation was headed by Brig. Gen. Mohammad Eslami.
Jafarzadeh said that the regime in Tehran has put into action this secret plan to build missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
Hemmat Industries Group is the most important and advanced group in the regime's missile program. The command headquarters and a limited number of its plants are located in the Hakimieh district of Tehran. The Aerospace complex and Mechanical Industries are located to the east of the highway. Hemmat Industries is located to the northern most section of the complex and adjacent to Ghazal Park.
Other codes allocated to maintain secrecy are:
-- Karimi Industries, codenamed 2500, builds the warhead.
-- Varamini Industries, codenamed 6,000, builds the missile guidance and control systems.
-- Cheraghi Industries, codenamed 3,000, builds the missile.
-- Rastegar Industries, codenamed 4,500, builds missile engines.
-- Kolhar Industries, codenamed 1,500, builds the launcher systems.
Probably the only viable option left to President Bush as he ponders what actions he can take before Iran reaches the point where it can place nuclear warheads on its missiles, is to empower internal resistance, hoping that change will come from within. But even that needs to be done with care. The last thing we need is another Iraq.
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)