(January 30, 2004) Apart from the latest developments in North Korea, proliferation issues in Iran, Pakistan and Libya continue. In fact all four countries have a certain connection: the proliferation of enrichment technology.
(602.5573) WISE Amsterdam - North Korea was suspected of having received enrichment technology from Pakistan, and Iran might have received the same technology from Pakistan researchers as well. Libya recently sent enrichment equipment to the U.S. in its effort to dismantle its nuclear weapons' program.
Iran's enrichment program not dismantled
Despite supposedly agreeing to cease its enrichment activities last December, it now appears that Iran is expecting to retain (and keep operational) its uranium enrichment program which it claims will provide low-enriched uranium for electricity generating plants. At the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos in Switzerland, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami stated that Iran, like other countries, had the right to use nuclear energy peacefully and that it had never sought nuclear weapons and opposed the production of such weapons. He also used the opportunity to deny claims that North Korea has provided his country with any nuclear materials.
A diplomatic row is broiling over the country's use of semantics with regards to how it has interpreted the term "enrichment-related". In Iran's view, as long as no uranium is actually enriched the accord is not breached - the fact that it continues to amass large quantities of centrifuge machinery is neither here nor there. Unsurprisingly this is causing concern among Western diplomats and nuclear experts who had expected the suspension to encompass the whole process including halting assembly of enrichment equipment. Tehran is currently negotiating with the IAEA to resolve the matter of what constitutes a suspension and specifically which activities should be suspended. Speaking at the WEF, Mohamed El-Baradei (director-general of IAEA) warned that not co-operating with IAEA efforts could lead to "serious implications".
Reports from unnamed diplomats are circulating that Javier Solana (EU foreign policy chief) discussed this issue with Hasan Rohani (head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council) during a visit to Iran earlier this month. Although there has yet to be any formal public comment from the EU, there are reports that the European trio of Germany, France and Britain made an error when striking the deal in Iran last year by not strictly defining what was expected. Rohani has suggested that Iran is not willing to expand upon its interpretation of suspension and urged the EU to deliver on its promise of technological aid.
Last October, Iran acknowledged that it had, for 18 years, been undertaking clandestine atomic research and experiments (including enriching uranium and separating plutonium). Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), these activities are allowed but must be reported to the IAEA - Iran breached the NPT by acting secretively. Despite demands from the U.S. to have Iran formally declared in violation of the NPT and reported to the U.N. Security Council, the IAEA gave Iran a stern warning and put the country on probation.
Iran subsequently agreed to cease uranium enrichment activities and allow additional IAEA inspections (that can include demands for data access) of its nuclear facilities. These concessions were seen by some in the Bush administration as a victory, claiming that pressure exerted on Iran, in the form of threats to report it to the Security Council, led to the admissions. Along with the American threats, Europe's big three, Britain, Germany and France, visited Iran to persuade Iran to stop its secret programs by agreeing to consider helping with technology transfers, which was interpreted as an offer to help develop a civilian nuclear power program. One would now imagine that those celebrating the seemingly successful use of the good cop, bad cop tactic might now be wondering what went wrong.
The secretary-general of Iran's National Security Council, Hasan Rohani, said in December that the "uranium enrichment program is suspended voluntarily, temporarily to build trust… but the issue of ending uranium enrichment is not in question and never has been or will be". Rohani, a possible presidential candidate in 2005, said Iran had nothing to fear from tougher inspections of its nuclear facilities because the likely conclusion will be that the programs are for peaceful purposes. He further commented that the program was required to provide fuel for at least 1 or the 8 planned new reactors, the first of which is a 1,000 MW reactor built with Russian help near Bushehr and expected to be completed later this year.
Pakistan questioning scientists on connection with Iran
The public investigation was launched in November following information provided by the IAEA suggesting that some of Pakistan's senior scientists were involved with the sale of nuclear secrets to Iran has now concluded after the arrests, and questioning, of several high profile scientists and officials. The New York Times reported that blueprints for Pakistani centrifuge designs were included in this information and that countries and individuals from Europe (Austria, Switzerland and Germany), Asia and North America were also named as possible sources.
It is not yet known whether charges will be made but the investigation has concluded that Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan and Dr. Mohammad Farooq provided unauthorized technical assistance to Iran in the late 1980s.
A.Q. Khan, revered in Pakistan as the father of its nuclear bomb and currently serving as adviser to government of Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, is reportedly being held under house arrest and is said to have been questioned following information obtained from Dr. Farooq. Dr. Khan was sentenced to 4 years in absentia by an Amsterdam court for espionage shortly after his return to Pakistan after working for Urenco in the 1970s - the verdict was later overturned.
The probe began with the detention of Yasin Chohan and Dr. Farooq, directors of the uranium enrichment facility, Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL), which A.Q. Khan formerly headed. In the early stages, Foreign ministry spokesman, Masood Khan stressed that Pakistan had not shared technology with Iran, North Korea or Libya and that the detained scientists and officials were merely being detained and that there was "no presumption of guilt".
In an interview to the Washington Post, Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf stated that Pakistani governments (past and present) had never sanctioned proliferation. Gen. Musharraf is being heavily criticized at home by Islamic hard-liners that accuse him of pandering to the Bush administration's wishes by aggressively pursuing the investigation. Washington however, is reportedly not convinced of a vigorous investigation.
Despite claims that no high-level military involvement existed with Pakistan's nuclear program during the late 80s to early 90s, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has claimed that she was forced from power to stop her attempts to exert control over military activities and the nuclear program.
If the investigation leads to a public trial, many expect interesting revelations regarding the role of the military. Investigators are currently considering whether to question retired Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, army chief of staff from 1988 to 1991. Gen. Beg openly advocated military co-operation with Iran and is alleged to have proposed the sale of nuclear technology to Tehran in 1991. Former U.S. ambassador, Robert Oakley, has said that Beg told him, also in 1991, that an understanding had been reached with the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, to provide the country with help for its nuclear program in return for conventional weapons and oil. However, the then President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif informed the Iranian President that the government of Pakistan could not go along with such an agreement. Beg says he never authorized the sale in the end.
Several low-ranking former military officers have been detained in connection with the investigation. Families of the detained claim that their relatives are being used as scapegoats by the Pakistani government and have disputed the idea that any scientists could act independently since they were closely monitors by authorities to safeguard secrecy.
President Musharraf insists that scientists were given complete "freedom of action" to develop technology which would have allowed the opportunity for wrongdoing.
The government is now said to be checking bank accounts of the 9 scientists and administrators detained in an effort to find some evidence of payments received.
Libya sends enrichment material to U.S.
British and American experts have been in Libya dismantling and removing technology and materials related to its illicit nuclear programs. 55, 000 pounds (approx. 25 tons) of equipment arrived in the U.S., from Libya, on 27 January and is being held at a "secure location" pending analysis. The weapons-related equipment is expected to be destroyed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Following its recent renouncement of all thing nuclear, Libya has continued it's rapid rise to respectability by ratifying the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and filling the necessary documentation with the U.N. to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which obligates signatories to cease development of banned weapons and destroy existing stocks. The country has also handed over drawings of nuclear warheads, procured from foreign sources, to the IAEA.
In the meantime, U.S. authorities have been butting heads with the IAEA over who should oversee the work in Libya - after all, it was the U.S. and ever loyal friend, Britain, that discovered the true extent of the country's program so they should take the lead and get the glory. Happily, the row was resolved with the U.S. and Britain taking charge of dismantling and removals whilst the IAEA gets responsibility for taking a full inventory of materials removed and verifying their destruction.
American officials are said to be contemplating opening an office in Tripoli (in the absence of an embassy) to facilitate the work of weapons experts and create a direct diplomatic channel for contact between the two countries. A delegation of U.S. congressmen has recently visited the country for talks with Gaddafi.
Sources: Reuters, 2, 14, 20, 22 and 26 January 2004; AP, 27 December 2003, 14 and 23 January 2004; AFP, 30 December 2003 and 21 January 2004; BBC, 19 and 26 January 2004; The Boston Globe, 30 November 2003; USA Today, 21 January 2004; VOA News, 21 January 2004; Washington Post, 24 and 25 January 2004
Contact: WISE Amsterdam
ATOMIC BLACK MARKET
U.N. inspectors have admitted their surprise at the ease with which bomb-making equipment can be acquired on the international black market as well as the scale and the sophistication of networks supplying banned materials and equipment. Weapons designs, real-time technical advice and equipment, sometimes manufactured in special factories, are readily available to those with financial means, regardless. The IAEA and U.S. authorities are said to be investigating a possible factory site in Malaysia following the interception of a shipment of centrifuge machines bound for Libya in October. It is thought that there are several factories dedicated to the manufacture of components specifically for the black market that produce flat-pack centrifuge kits, nicely boxed with quality control stamps no less. It is believed that these networks supplied both Libya and Iran and questions are being asked as to how such operations could remain undetected by Western intelligence sources. The recent discoveries are said to be due to Colonel Gaddafi, in an effort to show goodwill and convince doubters of Libya's commitment to withdrawing from the nuclear race.
In an interview to be published in Der Spiegel magazine, IAEA Director-General, Mohammed El-Baradei speaks of the new dangers of atomic war created by such trafficking. "I am afraid that nuclear arms are falling into the hands of unscrupulous dictators and terrorists." He goes on to add, "I am also afraid of the nuclear arsenals in democratic states because as long as these weapons exist, there is no certainty they won't be stolen, sabotaged or subject to accident."
AFP, 24 January 2004; The Washington Post, 24 January 2004; The Guardian, 17 January 2004