Iran official says seismic stations used for spying

Wed Dec 9, 2009 4:36pm GMT

* Iranian official denounces "espionage treaty"

* Treaty body: seismic station not linked to Iran reports

TEHRAN, Dec 9 (Reuters) - An Iranian official criticised an international treaty banning nuclear explosions on Wednesday, suggesting a newly built seismic monitoring station near its border was set up to spy on the Islamic Republic.

His remarks, carried by the official IRNA news agency, underlined Iranian distrust of world powers involved in a long-running dispute with Tehran over its nuclear programme.

The West suspects the programme is secretly aimed at making bombs. Iran denies this and says it is for electricity generation.

Last week, the Vienna-based Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) said a primary seismic station had been built and was undergoing tests in Turkmenistan, which borders Iran.

It is one of hundreds of such facilities set up around the world to monitor compliance with the test ban treaty banning all nuclear explosions, according to the website of the CTBTO, an independent world body observing possible breaches of the ban.

A CTBTO spokeswoman said the "network of sensors" was established to monitor explosions worldwide, not in particular countries. Annika Thunborg said several sensors were already located inside Iran, which is a member of the organisation.

But Abolfazl Zohrehvand, a senior Iranian diplomat involved in nuclear talks with major powers, said the facilities had been revealed as "dens of espionage" and suggested that plans to build them inside Iran had been halted.

"The CTBT is an espionage treaty which contradicts countries' national sovereignty," Zohrehvand said.

"Currently, there is only one station constructed near Iranian borders, but definitely they will construct more stations around Iran to monitor our activities," he said.

Thunborg said the decision to build all the seismic stations, including the one in Turkmenistan, was taken during negotiations in the mid-1990s in which Iran took part.

"The building of the station has nothing to do with recent reports about Iran (and its nuclear programme)," she said.

The monitoring stations could pick up signals from far away, Thunborg said. "What is important is not necessarily that they are close to a possible event, but that they are located in a terrain through which seismic waves can propagate well, usually in remote or isolated areas," she said. (Reporting by Reza Derakhshi in Tehran and Mark Heinrich in Vienna; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Tim Pearce)

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