Investigations into Iran’s nuke sources go ‘well beyond’ Pakistan
VIENNA: While Pakistan and its nationals are believed to have played a major role in helping Iran’s nuclear programme, more than half a dozen other countries are now under UN scrutiny, diplomats and arms experts say.
They say a months-long investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency has traced the origins of the Iranian enrichment programme to the late 1980s, when Iran was supplied with the first drawings on centrifuge technology, its main way of enriching uranium.
The investigations have widened “well beyond” Pakistan, Russia and China to include companies in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and other West European countries, said one diplomat. One of the diplomats also linked Pakistan to North Korea’s weapons programme, saying US intelligence had “pretty convincing” evidence of such a connection.
Iran and North Korea are the key concerns of the Vienna-based UN atomic agency, whose main task is to curb weapons proliferation through inspections and monitoring of countries that have ratified the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
North Korea withdrew from that treaty after the Bush administration revealed the existence of its nuclear weapons program late last year.
After months of intense international pressure, Iran now is cooperating with IAEA efforts to unravel nearly two decades of covert activities that the United States and other countries say point to a weapons programme.
Iran insists its nuclear activities are peaceful. But suspicions have heightened with revelations that it was enriching uranium, and the discovery of traces of weapons-grade enriched uranium on some of its centrifuge equipment.
A diplomat said the agency was following up on three to four different samples of highly enriched uranium beyond the two whose existence had been previously revealed.
The agency is trying to trace the origins of the equipment to test Iranian claims that Tehran did not enrich uranium to weapons grade and that the highly enriched traces were inadvertently “imported” on the components. Neither Iran nor the IAEA have revealed the countries of origin, but diplomats had previously said that Pakistan, China and Russia were among the probable suppliers. Pakistan, itself a nuclear power, on Tuesday acknowledged that several of its nuclear scientists may had shared sensitive technology with Iran, but insisted the government never authorised it. Officials said information provided by the IAEA prompted the questioning of some scientists.
The White House says President Pervez Musharraf, an important US ally in the war on terrorism, has assured Washington that his country is not offering to export technology related to weapons of mass destruction. But David Albright, a former Iraq weapons inspector who runs the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, suggests things were different before Musharraf seized power in 1999. “It defies belief that the senior leadership of the Pakistani government, particularly its intelligence operations, did not know about the activities of these Pakistani scientists,” he said. “The US had come to them about this several times.” Pakistan has long been suspected of proliferation during its 30-year effort to build nuclear weapons of sending nuclear technology to North Korea in exchange for missiles or helping Libya and Iraq. A middleman claiming to represent Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist offered Saddam Hussein help in building an atomic bomb on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War, according to UN documents shown to the Associated Press last year. Pakistan strongly denies the allegations.
But last month Pakistan started investigating several scientists at its top nuclear facility, the Khan Research Laboratories. Mohammad Farooq, the lab’s former director general, is in detention. Pakistani officials say among those being questioned was the founder of Pakistan’s nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, a 1990 winner of Pakistan’s “Man of the Nation Award”.
Mr Khan is believed to have traveled to Iran several times in the late 1980s and early 1990s, said a nuclear expert who also spoke on condition of anonymity. A few years earlier, before international attention began focusing on the dangers of proliferation, some Pakistani scientists handed out brochures at trade shows in Germany and elsewhere “that implied that they were willing to sell sensitive centrifuge know-how or items of equipment”, he said. German intelligence is now investigating, he said. —AP