TEHRAN, Iran - Iran has the knowledge and scientific capability to produce nuclear weapons but will never do so, a prominent lawmaker has said.
Gholamreza Mesbahi Moghadam is a parliamentarian not a government official and his views do not represent the Iranian government's policy. It however is the first time that such a prominent Iranian politician has publicly stated that Iran has the technological capability to produce a nuclear weapon.
His assertion published on parliament's website late Friday suggests that Iran is trying to show unity in its political establishment around its often repeated claims that it seeks world-class technological advances including nuclear expertise, but does not want to develop atomic arms as the U.S. and its allies claim.
The statement comes before planned talks beginning next week with the U.S. and other world powers over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Moghadam said Iran can easily produce the highly enriched uranium that is used to build atomic bombs, but that it is not Tehran's policy to go that route.
"Iran has the scientific and technological capability to produce (a) nuclear weapon, but will never choose this path," he said in remarks carried by the parliamentary website icana.ir.
The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charges, saying its program is peaceful and geared toward generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.
The White House did not comment on Moghadam's comments.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly insisted that his country is not seeking nuclear weapons, saying that holding such arms is a sin as well as "useless, harmful and dangerous."
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also asserted that if Iran one day decides to build nuclear weapons, it will do so openly and won't fear anybody. However, he has also emphasized that Iran has no intention to weaponize what he describes as a peaceful nuclear program.
Director of U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper asserted in a January report to the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran has the means to build a nuclear weapon but has not yet decided to follow through.
U.S. intelligence officials say they generally stand by a 2007 intelligence assessment that asserts Iran stopped comprehensive secret work on developing nuclear arms in 2003. But Britain, France, Germany, Israel and other U.S. allies think such activities have continued past that date, a suspicion shared by the IAEA, which says in recent reports that some isolated and sporadic activities may be ongoing.
However, the IAEA says there is no evidence to prove that Iran's nuclear materials have been diverted towards weapons.
Iran says it is enriching uranium to about 3.5 percent to produce nuclear fuel for its future reactors and also to around 20 percent to fuel a research reactor that produces medical isotopes to treat cancer patients. Uranium has to be enriched to more than 90 percent to be used for a nuclear weapon.
The U.N. nuclear agency has also confirmed that centrifuges at the Fordo site near Iran's holy city of Qom are churning out uranium enriched to 20 percent, and says uranium enriched to that level can more quickly be turned into weapons-grade material.
Moghadam, the lawmaker, said that Iran has the means to produce 90-plus percent enrichment.
"There is a possibility for Iran to easily achieve more than 90 percent enrichment," icana.ir quoted Moghadam as saying.