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    Fact or fiction? Iran's quest for the atomic bomb

    By Louis Charbonneau

    AUSTRIA: July 27, 2004

    VIENNA - It has been two years since a group of Iranian exiles accused Iran of hiding a secret atomic weapons program from U.N. inspectors, and diplomats and analysts say Tehran is only getting closer to the bomb.

    Officials and nuclear experts say that one of the two facilities Iran had not declared to the United Nations at the time was a uranium enrichment plant that, once completed, could enrich enough uranium for a dozen or so nuclear bombs each year.

    Several diplomats said Iran began with a plan of developing its nuclear capabilities so that the atom bomb option would always be there - the "break-out" scenario. Later, one said, Iran decided the only solution to the U.S. threat was the bomb.

    "Iranian leaders got together after the Iraq war and decided that the reason North Korea was not attacked was because it has the bomb. Iraq was attacked because it did not," a Western diplomat told Reuters this week, citing intelligence reports.

    Iran has vehemently denied pursuing nuclear weapons, arguing that its atomic ambitions are limited to generating electricity and that developing the bomb would violate Islamic law.