Thursday, March 09, 2006

Western Sources: Iran has Covert Nuclear Channel

Ze'ev Schiff, Ha'aretz:
In concurrence with growing diplomatic tension over Iran's nuclear program, on Thursday it emerged that intelligence services in the West are convinced that Iran is taking covert means to develop nuclear weapons, in addition to the nuclear program under the partial supervision of the IAEA. Russian intelligence is believed to agree with this assessment.

According to the IAEA interim report from late February, a document was found that alludes to Iranian attempts to create the components of an atomic bomb.

Speaking a day after it became clear that the UN Security Council would take up Iran's nuclear case, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday that Tehran would not be bullied or humiliated.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's Board of Governors decided Wednesday to hand the Iranian nuclear issue to the United Nations Security Council, which is expected to start deliberations next week.

Russia was quick to respond, as its foreign minister hinted Thursday that the move might have been too hasty.

Western countries are vulnerable

According to the Iranian president, Western countries are vulnerable and would suffer more than Iran if they continued to try to impede its attempts to develop nuclear technology, local media reported

"They (Western countries) know that they are not capable of inflicting the slightest blow on the Iranian nation because they need the Iranian nation," the semi-official ISNA students news agency quoted him as saying in a speech in western Iran.

"They will suffer more and they are vulnerable," he said, without elaborating.

"Our enemies will never succeed in forcing the Iranian nation to step back on its rights over peaceful nuclear technology because it never accepts humiliation," state television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

"This nation ... will not allow others to treat it with a bullying attitude, even if those who treat it with a bullying attitude are international bullies," he added, ISNA reported.

Russia: UN referral 'too hasty'

Russia's top diplomat criticized efforts to bring Iran and its disputed nuclear program before the U.N. Security Council, suggesting that the United States was too eager to take the issue out of the hands of the world body's nuclear watchdog.

In an interview broadcast Thursday on Russian state television, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called Iran's referral to the Security Council an attempt to portray the International Atomic Energy Agency as unable to influence Tehran.

"This move is detrimental, and not one real problem can be decided with such a move," he said.

"We don't want to be the ones to remind (everyone) who was right and who was not in Iraq, although the answer is obvious," he said.

Nuclear arms developed in covert facilities

The intelligence assessments in the West reflect the conclusions that have been drawn in the past few years in the United States, Europe and Israel. Until now, most of the publications about Iran's nuclear program mentioned sites in Isfahan, Natanz, Arak and Tehran. The intelligence sources say these belong to the acknowledged part of the program and claim there is a secondary, smaller covert channel that is making steady progress toward creating a nuclear weapon for Iran. READ MORE

A few intelligence services reportedly have information about these secret plants. Experts say that some of the facilities are about the same size as the secret structures built by the Pakistanis as part of their nuclear weapons program.

Some of the evidence of Iran's secret activities was mentioned in the IAEA's interim reports in recent months. The most suspicious item is a document found in Iranian possession that includes technical details about casting enriched and depleted uranium into hemispheres. This casting process is associated specifically with nuclear weapons production, as stated in the IAEA interim report of February 27. The report added that that existence of the document is disturbing.

According to experts, the document is unequivocal proof that Iran's nuclear project is involved in weapons production.

When asked by IAEA inspectors about the document, the Iranians declared that it had come from Pakistan but that they had never used it. The source of the document, as well as the centrifuges that Iran uses to enrich uranium, is apparently the network established by Pakistani nuclear arms pioneer Abdul Khader Khan, who admitted to assisting a number of Islamic countries with their nuclear programs.

Iran repeatedly refused to give the document, or a copy of it, to the IAEA.

The clandestine facility in Tehran's suburbs called Lavizan-Shian is another element attesting to Iran's nuclear ambitions. The site contains a nuclear development facility that was seen on the satellite photographs of IAEA and a number of states. The images revealed evidence of new excavation activity designed to conceal the underground facility. Later photographs showed only trees and gardens there.

Iran admitted to the West that a project is being carried out at the site, which it said was aimed at researching anti-nuclear defensive measures. At some point it became clear that the Iranian Defense Ministry had sold the facility to a private company, but control was transferred back to the ministry soon after. IAEA officials who asked to meet the facility's director were introduced to a university professor.

The uranium mine in Gauchin provides additional proof of the clandestine nuclear program. In the 1990s, Iranian publications announced that the mine was transferred from the Iranian Energy Committee to a private company. A few years later, a transfer back to the IEC - in effect, the Defense Ministry - was announced. The IAEA suspects that the private company is connected to the state military establishment.

The advanced centrifuges for uranium enrichment that the Iranians are thought to possess are another part of the evidence. It is known that Iran purchased P1 centrifuges, made of aluminum. IAEA inspectors found documents on the faster and more advanced P2 centrifuges. The Iranians told the inspectors that they had not purchased the centrifuges. However, there is proof that Iran did buy a large number of magnets used in the P2 models.

The Iranians admitted about three years ago to separating small quantities of plutonium, which is clearly associated with atomic arms development. (The materials needed to build an atomic bomb can be acquired either by enriching uranium or by producing plutonium.)

Inspectors who examined the plutonium concluded, judging from the amounts found, that the Iranians must have started creating the plutonium in the mid-1990s and not three years ago.

Iran's clandestine Green Salt Project is another element in its nuclear program. The conversion of uranium dioxide into UF4 which takes the appearance of green crystals is a stage in the conversion of uranium ore into the UF6 gas, which is then placed into the centrifuges for enrichment. The IAEA stated that it is still waiting for convincing explanations from the Iranians about the uranium conversion, which is used to produce nuclear weapons.

The IAEA is mainly concerned with the manufacturing and supervision of nuclear materials. It does not concern itself with the development of ground-to-ground missiles, for example, which could carry a nuclear warhead.

In the past year, U.S. intelligence has provided the IAEA with blueprints of an Iranian warhead that could carry a nuclear weapon. This is additional evidence of the covert program.

The IAEA does not deal with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), to which both Israel and Iran are signatories. Israel followed CTBT directives and built two seismic stations to monitor for nuclear tests. Iran has not built the monitoring stations it is obligated to put into place.

The covert channel gives Iran a redundant system in the event of an attack on the country, but also gives it a way to give up its nuclear program ostensibly while continuing work secretly. This will be difficult if it returns to implementing the Additional Protocol allowing IAEA inspectors to carry out snap inspections anywhere in the country.