updated 8/31/2004 4:02:35 PM ET 2004-08-31T20:02:35

Iran said Tuesday it had arrested a group of spies, including several who passed the country’s nuclear secrets to the country’s foes, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi did not name any of the arrested but said members of the Mujahedeen Khalq, an armed opposition group, were the main players in the spy operation.

“The Intelligence Ministry has arrested several spies who were transferring Iran’s nuclear secrets out of the country,” IRNA quoted Yunesi as saying. He provided no other details.

“The hypocrites (Mujahedeen) had the leading role in passing information (about Iran’s nuclear facilities) and have already said they were proud of spying against Iran,” Yunesi was quoted as saying.

The Mujahedeen Khalq claim they were the first to break a story in August 2003 that Iran was secretly developing a uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, central Iran.

But Tehran says it had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, about the Natanz facility months earlier. The IAEA has confirmed Tehran’s version.

In Paris, Shahin Gobadi, a press spokesman of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said that the individuals arrested had nothing to do with any disclosures made by the Iranian resistance.

“By resorting to such a hollow show of force, the mullahs are trying, on the one hand, to cover up their drive to acquire nuclear weapons and their violation of international treaties and, on the other hand, to compensate for the blows they have received from the resistance,” said Gobadi, whose group calls itself an umbrella for the Iranian resistance movement but is believed to be the political arm of the Mujahedeen Khalq.

The Mujahedeen Khalq, which seeks to topple Iran’s ruling Islamic establishment by force, remains on the U.S. State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

However, fighters from the armed group are under U.S. military guard in neighboring Iraq and have been granted protection as noncombatants.

Iran has repeatedly said it would not give up its nuclear program, including the right to develop the full nuclear fuel cycle — from extracting uranium ore to enriching it to be used in nuclear reactors — but was ready to provide “guarantees” it won’t build atomic weapons.

Washington claims the Iranian nuclear program is aimed at building atomic weapons, but Tehran says is directed at generating electricity.

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