''Claims of an imminent Iranian nuclear bomb are without foundation.'' So says Georges Delcoigne, spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, about a report in Jane's Defence Weekly that Iran was within two years of producing a nuclear bomb.
The IAEA is a United Nations agency that serves as a watchdog over nuclear nonproliferation agreements.
The article in Jane's, a London-based publication specializing in matters of military hardware, sparked a flurry of news media attention worldwide. The editor of Jane's said the report, which carried heavy disclaimers, merely repeated an otherwise undocumented Arab report.
The IAEA and other observers of the world nuclear industry say there is overwhelming evidence that Iran has none of the prerequisites for nuclear weapons production and is not even plausibly launched in that direction.
Iran's only existing research reactor is small and can produce only inconsequential
quantities of plutonium. Iran has no uranium enrichment facility except for a 10-percent share in the Eurodif plant in France, which cannot produce weapons-grade uranium.
Finally, two high-power reactors, whose contruction was started by a West German firm, are years away from any possibility of completion. And even if they were ever completed, they would be unable to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
A senior West German engineer long associated with Iran's nuclear program doubted Iran's ability to produce nuclear weapons even if it wanted to. He stressed that Iran's nuclear expertise was limited even before the 1979 revolution and that Iran's small cadre of experts has since been decimated.
The Jane's article was acknowledged to contain no specific evidence as to weaponsmaking activity in Iran.
But the author noted Iran's new interest in completing the two West German reactors, originally ordered by the Shah and disavowed by the revolutionary government. The author then extrapolated this fact, itself surprising, to mean that Iran had bomb potential. He based this assumption on nothing more substantive than the fact that plutonium is a byproduct of all reactors.
Indeed, Iran has commissioned the West German manufacturer, Kraftwerk Union, to study whether the plants could be salvaged. Left untended since 1979, both plants have suffered serious damage from sand and salt.
Mr. Delcoigne emphasizes that all Iranian facilities are subject to strict IAEA regulations. If ever finished, the two West German-made reactors would be subject to additional controls by West Germany, which says it refuses to deliver any fuel whatsoever until the Iran-Iraq war is over.