Saturday, May 13, 2006

Suspicion grows on Iran’s uranium

Tom Walker, The Times Online:
INSPECTORS from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are asking Iranian officials for samples of machinery taken from a nuclear site bulldozed in 2004 to confirm whether it bears traces of bomb-grade uranium.

Diplomats close to the IAEA in Vienna said yesterday that they want to establish whether the Physics Research Centre at Lavizan, northeast of Tehran, could have been involved in an illicit weapons programme.

The IAEA request follows a preliminary finding that one piece of equipment from the site does have traces of highly enriched uranium.

The latest development is bound to intensify suspicions in America and other western countries that Iran may be closer to a nuclear bomb than the IAEA realises. But the traces of uranium could be the result of inadvertent contamination of hardware obtained by Iran from abroad.

The government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped from the map, continues to insist that all its nuclear equipment is destined only for peaceful power-generation purposes.

An IAEA team negotiating with Iranian officials wants to inspect specified machines and equipment from Lavizan.

“It’s painstaking work and we’ve got to get these things right,” said a Vienna-based official. “You’re looking at parts per trillion in some of these tests — it’s very hard to know the significance and we’re requesting further sampling.”

Similar IAEA tests in the past had proved that the highly enriched uranium-235 isotope on other equipment had originated in Pakistan, he said. This was believed to have come to Iran through the proliferation network of the disgraced A Q Khan, the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb.

As negotiators from Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China prepare for talks at the Foreign Office in London tomorrow about offering new incentives to persuade Iran to abandon its enrichment programme, a retired Pakistani army general revealed evidence of the mullahs’ long-held desire to procure a nuclear bomb.

General Mirza Aslam Beg described an Iranian visit to Islamabad in 1990, when he was chief of staff. “They didn’t want the technology,” he said.They asked: ‘Can we have a bomb?’ My answer was by all means you can have it but you must make it yourself. Nobody gave it to us.” READ MORE

He said that last January Iranian officers asked him what they could do to head off a military strike on their nuclear facilities and he advised them to make it clear that Iran’s response would be to attack Israel.

Ahmadinejad continued to seek international support on his nuclear stance yesterday at an Islamic summit in Indonesia. He lobbied fellow leaders and claimed he was willing to negotiate with anyone except Israel, but not under threat of force.