BRUSSELS, Oct 26 (Reuters) Iran may be closer to developing nuclear weapons than three to eight years believed by the UN nuclear watchdog, the country's emigre opposition said today.
And changing Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, showed the country no longer needed to play for time in negotiations to push ahead with its nuclear programme, the National Council of Resistance of Iran said.
The group was the first to report in 2002 the existence in Iran of uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and heavy water plant at Arak, facilities the West suspects could be used for the production of the atomic bomb.
Tehran insists its activities are peaceful.
''According to our intelligence, the Iranian regime is closer to having a bomb than what Mr ElBaradei says,'' the Council's expert, Alireza Jafarzadeh, told a news conference, referring to Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
ElBaradei said this week there was still plenty of time for diplomacy, sanctions, dialogue and incentives to bear fruit in negotiations with Iran, but the Council disagreed.
''We are talking about last minutes to prevent the Iran regime from having a bomb,'' Jafarzadeh said.
''By replacing Larijani with another revolutionary guard commander, the Iranian regime has sent a very clear message that it is closer to a bomb, as there is no need for negotiations as was the case in previous years,'' he added.
Iran's new chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, is a close ally of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Council also welcomed new sanctions against Teheran imposed by the United States on Thursday, saying they would hit the operations of Iran's Revolutionary Guard.
Washington accused the Revolutionary Guard of spreading weapons of mass destruction and labelled Iran's Qods military force a supporter of terrorism ''The designation of the Revolutionary Guard and other related entities ... is important. It harms the Revolutionary Guards' significant financial resources, puts a squeeze on them, makes their operations very difficult,'' said Jafarzadeh.
REUTERS SS KP1842