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Kerry defends Iran negotiations before Congress

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry defended Tuesday the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying the U.S. policy is to prevent the Iranians from getting atomic weapons.

Kerry told Congress that the administration’s policy is that “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.” He said opposition to a potential deal is misplaced because it is coming from people who don’t know what an agreement might look like.

Kerry spoke a day after returning from the latest round of talks with Iran. U.S. and Iranian officials reported progress on getting a deal that would clamp down on Tehran’s nuclear activities for at least 10 years but then slowly ease restrictions. Negotiators are rushing to try to meet a March 31 deadline for a framework agreement.

Kerry’s comments coincided with allegations by a prominent Iranian opposition group that Iran has been conducting secret nuclear research and some uranium enrichment using sophisticated machinery at an underground facility in the suburbs northeast of Tehran.

The group offered no proof, but said it had learned of the activities through years of reporting from its sources inside Iran, including people who had visited radiation-shielded tunnels under what is purported to be a ministry of intelligence building.

U.S. intelligence officials had no immediate comment on the claims. The group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has in the past revealed secret Iranian nuclear sites, most prominently when it disclosed a hidden nuclear facility in Natanz in 2002. But it has also made claims that have been disputed by experts, including its 2010 announcement of a nuclear facility at Qazvin that has not been substantiated.

The national council is closely tied to the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian group that until 2012 was labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. — but which also includes among its backers a list of prominent former American officials, including former directors of the CIA and FBI. The group’s latest allegations seemed timed to disrupt Iran’s nuclear talks with the West.

At a news conference in Washington, group leaders described a 62-acre site they dubbed Lavizan-3, which they said included four underground tunnels below a building used by Iran’s intelligence agency. The facility was built in great secrecy between 2004 and 2008, they said, by companies that had been affiliated with Iran’s nuclear program. Alireza Jafarzadeh, who helps run the group’s Washington office, said the group’s allegations of ongoing nuclear research are based on more than 200 intelligence reports over several years.

David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, expressed skepticism in an interview, saying it didn’t make sense that Iran would go to such expense to build an underground facility to do research on enrichment that could be carried out undetected in a simple laboratory or warehouse. He noted that Iran built and maintains a host of underground military facilities that are unrelated to nuclear research.


Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.