WASHINGTON – Despite reports, senior Bush administration officials are not meeting about Iran Tuesday. But talk of a strategy session may have served the administration's purpose — sending a signal to Tehran that the United States is watching it closely.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Tuesday that administration policy is not to comment on national security meetings, but officials don't deny that a meeting might have been cancelled.
The meeting was said to be a discussion about White House concerns over Iran's nuclear program and its support for terrorism.
An Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (search), has been feeding the U.S. government information about Iran's nuclear program.
In a press conference Tuesday, the congressional liaison for that group, Alireza Jafarzadeh (search), announced that the group had obtained evidence of two previously unknown nuclear production facilities in Iran — one 25 miles west of Tehran and another about three miles south of that. The facilities are said to contain centrifuge equipment operated by a front company whose board of directors includes Iran's head of its atomic energy agency.
Jafarzadeh said the sites are meant to complement two other nuclear weapons facilities — Natanz and Arak, which the group charges are developing weapons-grade enriched uranium.
Jafarzadeh told Fox News that the two sites "are meant to complement the site in Natanz but also [to] act as a backup to the site in Natanz, in case that site was bombed or for whatever reason was dysfunctional, [in which case] the nuclear weapons program of the Iranian regime would not be interrupted."
Some U.S. officials want Mohamed ElBaradei (search), head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to declare at its meeting next month that Iran is in material breach of its treaty obligations not to produce nuclear weapons.
ElBaradei has inspected the Natanz facility and reportedly found it ready to produce several nuclear weapons a year by 2005. However, Reuters news agency reports that ElBaradei will not declare the Iranians in material breach.
Former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright said the hestitation could be in part because Iran is not actually in violation of treaty provisions.
"There is a difference between intending to do something and finding evidence that they are actually working on nuclear weapons," Albright said. "Under the non-proliferation treaty, unfortunately, Iran can develop centrifuges and these facilities may be perfectly legal. If there has not been the introduction of any uranium into any of these sites, the centrifuges could be spinning and Iran would not be violating the non-proliferation treaty. So I think we do need to build more evidence."
Officials say they don't believe Iran's claims that its nuclear weapons program is peaceful since its oil and natural gas reserves are so large, it does not need nuclear energy.
U.S. officials also want to see more action in Tehran against suspected Al Qaeda members. The increased desire follows a May 12 series of bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that claimed 25 innocent lives, including eight Americans. Those bombings were said to be the work of Al Qaeda operatives based in Iran.
Over the weekend, Australia's foreign minister told Iran's president that the Riyadh bombings could have been prevented with Iran's help and that Iran should not underestimate the desire of Western nations to act against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
As if on cue, the Iranian government announced Monday that it has begun questioning several Al Qaeda suspects over the past weekend.
U.S. officials quoted anonymously said the suspects are probably not senior members of the terror network. Fleischer said Iran's arrest of some Al Qaeda suspects is not enough to ease U.S. concerns about it providing shelter to members of that group.
Last week, the United States cut the limited diplomatic ties it had with the Islamic government, boycotting a meeting scheduled last week in Geneva with Iranian officials.
Fleischer would not say if any decision has been made on cutting off talks for the forseeable future, but made clear Tuesday that President Bush believes the Iranian people want the same freedoms and opportunities as other people around the world.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that nothing has changed in the way the United States conducts its relationship with Iran.
"We have contacts with them. We have contacts and they will continue. There's much in the news today that I have not been able to source," he said.
U.S. officials here are privately issuing veiled threats against Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (search), warning him that he doesn't have the power of someone like North Korea's Kim Jong Il (search) or even ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Officials say a number of fault lines run through the Khatami regime and other mullahs are susceptible to being overthrown. That would seem to support reports the administration has decided to try and destabilize Iran's government, but officials deny reports that the meeting scheduled and cancelled on Tuesday was meant to be a "Who's next after Iraq?" session.
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said in February that Iran is a relatively more open society than North Korea or Iraq, and would require the United States to deal with it differently than it did with those nations.
While the who's next meeting may not come to pass Tuesday, some on Capitol Hill are talking about doing just that. A few lawmakers are exploring or introducing bills to give greater funding to Iranian opposition groups and to make regime change the official policy of the United States government.
However, Senate Foreign Relations Committee (search) senior Democratic member Joe Biden said the United States should take a cautious approach in dealing with Iran and not take the route it did with Iraq.
"I think we should be working with and supporting the civilian leadership in there that's been taking on the clerical leadership," Biden said. "But in terms of going in there with force now and going in there to take down 'that regime' or form any revolution, we should be a little bit careful here at this point."
"We should be looking out at our interests, not their government, and our interests are to make sure that they in fact do not harbor Al Qaeda," Biden said.
Fox News' James Rosen, Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.