Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Tailor's bag that put West on the trail of Iran's nuclear secrets

Anton La Guardia, The Telegraph:
Nuclear inspectors have established a link between Iranian nuclear documents and the blueprint for a warhead bought by Libya on the black market. The discovery increases suspicions that Teheran is trying to build atomic weapons under the cloak of its "civil" nuclear programme.

As Iran faces the threat of United Nations sanctions, questions are growing about whether it has made the jump from enriching uranium to designing an actual weapon.

The new evidence on "weaponisation" has built up from several sources. They include the latest US intelligence, a surprising error by Iranian officials and the discovery in Libya of an atomic bomb manual stuffed in two plastic bags incongruously marked "Good Looks Tailor".

A key piece of evidence is a 15-page document setting out how to make enriched uranium hemispheres - the core of an atomic bomb - found by the International Atomic Energy Agency last October among hundreds of papers handed over by Iran. READ MORE

Several diplomatic sources said the paper was only a general outline but was "similar" to the full blueprint for a Chinese-designed bomb sold to Libya by the disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist, A Q Khan. "They are part of the same recipe," said one well-placed source.

Libya surrendered the weapons design to officials from America, Britain and the IAEA in January 2004, as part of its agreement to give up its weapons of mass destruction in return for rehabilitation in the West.

Iran factfile

"The Libyans gave us two plastic bags marked with 'Good Looks' and the address and the name of a tailor in Pakistan. Inside them were the designs for nuclear weapons," recalled one participant, "It was bizarre. I still can't believe it."

Good Looks Fabrics and Tailors in Islamabad caters to members of Pakistani high society, including A Q Khan.

At first, the owner, Salahuddin Khan, said he was in shock at the discovery. But yesterday he said he had benefited from the unexpected attention: "It was a great thing. I am thankful to God for the publicity."

A Q Khan is hailed as the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme. The question now is whether Iran bought the same blueprint for a nuclear warhead as Libya.

Iran says its nuclear enrichment programme, which was restarted defiantly in recent months, is only meant to produce nuclear fuel. But the West fears it will seek to make fissile material for bombs. The "hemispheres" document is arguably the closest the IAEA has come to a "smoking gun".

Iran refused to allow inspectors to take it away or photocopy it. Eventually, Teheran agreed to allow the IAEA to study it, copy its contents by hand and place it under an IAEA seal.

"We can't figure out why Iran would have given this document to the inspectors. They probably just made a mistake and did not realise it was there," said one western source.

Iran claims it did not ask for the document but it was provided free by A Q Khan's nuclear black marketeers along with the enrichment technology in 1987.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, shrugged off the issue, saying: "I have seen the document. Of the 15 pages, only one-and-a-half deal with hemispheres in a general, non-technical manner. We have never used it."

The IAEA appears to give credence to the evidence provided by US intelligence from a captured Iranian laptop.

Western security sources say this gave details of what appear to be attempts to redesign Iran's Shehab 3 missiles to carry a nuclear warhead, albeit not the same device as the "Good Looks" blueprint.

Iran has dismissed the laptop documents as forgeries.