2004 January 23 Friday
Iran Continues To Work On Nuclear Weapons Development

Western government officials say the Iranian government is still building nuclear equipment useful for making nuclear weapons.

The Iranian undertaking, given three months ago, was hailed at the time as marking a new approach to the disarmament of rogue states through diplomacy rather than war but western officials said Teheran was still buying and assembling machines to enrich uranium. "The Iranians are definitely still out procuring equipment," said one senior western source.

Iran is interpreting the meaning of its agreement with European governments very narrowly.

Now, diplomats told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, even key European nations who negotiated the deal with Tehran have started to question Iran's commitment because it appears to be using semantics -- the meaning of the word suspend -- to keep some of its nuclear enrichment program operational.

France, Germany, and Britain should have insisted on more precise wording when they negotiated their deal with Iran.

One of the diplomats suggested an oversight on the part of France, Germany and Britain when they made their deal with Iran.

"Right from the beginning, everybody asked, 'what is suspension,' but the Europeans and Iranians never defined it," he said.

To get a sense of the word games and negotiating strategies used by the Iranian government see Amir Taheri's recent article on an Egyptian-Iranian diplomatic row.

The centrifuges are being built by Iranian companies.

Although Iran has shut down its nuclear facility in Natanz and has stopped installing new centrifuges to enrich uranium, the officials said Wednesday, Iran has indicated it will continue to honor existing contracts with local companies who produce the equipment.

UN IAEA directory Mohamed ElBaradei says he is not alarmed by recent developments in Iran and still expects to achieve a binding deal.

But International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said Thursday the U.N. agency had seen no indications Iran had reneged on its promise. He spoke on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

Whether a binding deal is achieved depends in large part on whether the United States is perceived as a credible threat to the continued existence of the Mullahocracy in Teheran. The Mullahs might be willing to gamble that they can get away with developing nuclear weapons. The US has most of its troops tied down in Iraq and other countries. Domestically the Bush Administration is facing sustained criticism for not finding more WMD technology and weapons in Iraq. Can the US credibly threaten Iran with a preemptive attack? If not then why should Khamenei and his associates hold back from developing nuclear weapons? Are the economic carrots being offered by Europe big enough to persuade the Iranians? Can the US and EU get a sanctions regime thru the UN Security Council? At this point the Iranians are not yet convinced that they have all that much to lose by continuing to develop nuclear weapons.

The Iranians got so far along on their nuclear weapons program with various forms of intentional help from Pakistan, Russia, and other countries. But leakage of technology from Western countries has been important as well. Iran acquired a gas centrifuge design from a willing Pakistan but Pakistan acquired that design from Europe surreptitiously. Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan probably acquired gas centrifuge designs while working for a German-Dutch-British consortium Urenco in the Netherlands in the 1970s. There is a lesson here about the dangers of letting foreigners in to work in a country's civilian nuclear power program.

Meanwhile, the Dutch government yesterday said there are indications that North Korea and Libya may also have acquired centrifuges that were developed in Europe and which both Pakistan and Iran are known to possess.

Khan said everything he did had the approval of the commander of the Pakistani army.

The official said the scientist who had led the effort to build an atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had told investigators that any sharing of nuclear technology with Iran had the approval of Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, the commander of Pakistan's army from 1988 to 1991.

The availability of designs of equipment that is useful for making nuclear weapons is going to steadily rise. The ever rising density of computer data storage media and rising speeds of computer networks makes it ever easier to transfer large amounts of design data. At the same time, advances in design software make it much easier to develop complex designs with smaller engineering teams. Plus, advances in machining tools and other methods of fabrication are making it steadily easier for even less sophisticated operators of manufacturing equipment to produce complex designs. A country like Iran that intends to develop nuclear weapons will find the task of doing so to get continually easier in future decades. Given that the will of Western countries to stop countries with nuclear weapons ambitions is not going to always be strong it seems inevitable that more countries will succeed in becoming nuclear powers. Still, efforts to delay the spread of nuclear weapons are worth pursuing.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 January 23 09:36 AM  US Foreign Weapons Proliferation Control


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