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Iran 'Has Secret Atomic Bomb Project'

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 06, 2004 1:50 pm    Post subject: Iran 'Has Secret Atomic Bomb Project' Reply with quote

Iran 'Has Secret Atomic Bomb Project'
February 06, 2004
Anton La Guardia

America has convincing new evidence that Iran is hiding an atomic bomb project despite Teheran's promise to open up all of its nuclear facilities to international inspectors, a senior US official has told The Telegraph.

He said the Teheran regime was secretly trying to build a second and more advanced uranium enrichment plant in parallel to the large facilities in the town of Natanz revealed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last year.

"There is no doubt in our mind that the Iranians have a lot that the IAEA does not know about," said the official. "The Iranians have a military programme that the IAEA has never set eyes on."

Another western source confirmed that the nuclear technology smuggling network headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan, Pakistan's top nuclear weapons scientist, had sold much more equipment to Iran than Teheran has so far admitted to.

The latest intelligence on Iran, if corroborated, will ignite an intense international crisis with the Iranian regime.

The US seems, for the moment, to be seeking to strangle Iran's nuclear programme through inspections and diplomatic agreements brokered by Europe.

But the presence of US troops either side of Iran - in Iraq and Afghanistan - is a reminder to the regime that Washington retains the declared option of "pre-emptive" military action. Clear-cut proof of a secret nuclear weapons programme in Iran would be an acute embarrassment for Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who has invested heavily in "engagement" with the clerical regime.

Last October three European countries - Britain, France and Germany - brokered a deal whereby Teheran supposedly came clean about its nuclear programme and in return was spared action by the United Nations Security Council.

Iran also agreed "temporarily" to suspend uranium enrichment at the Natanz plant. But western diplomats said it had continued to buy components, assemble centrifuges and test the equipment.

Senior diplomats from the big three European countries this week met Iranian officials in Vienna to demand that Teheran halt these subsidiary enrichment-related activities, but reached no agreement. It was not clear whether they discussed US suspicions that Teheran had a second secret enrichment plant.

Iran claims it has only sought to make low-enriched uranium as fuel for a planned civil nuclear reactor to generate electricity.

But it admitted to lying to the IAEA for 18 years, saying it had made a small quantity of highly-enriched uranium and also separated a few grams of plutonium - both weapons-grade fissile material. According to US and other western sources, it is now clear that Iran has been hiding much more. In particular, they believe Teheran has been trying to build a G2 centrifuge with high-speed rotors made of maraging steel, a light but high-strength form of the metal.

This is a more efficient model than the aluminium-based G1 design that is under IAEA inspection in Natanz.

Both versions are based on Dutch designs stolen in the 1970s by Mr Khan when he was working as a metallurgist in the Netherlands for Urenco, the British-German-Dutch nuclear fuel consortium. Libya bought both the G1 aluminium and G2 maraging steel versions from Khan's network. Moreover, a shipment of maraging steel centrifuge tubes destined for North Korea was seized by Japan last year.

Western intelligence agencies are trying to find out whether Iran and other countries have bought a design for a nuclear bomb that was sold to Libya by Pakistani scientists.

Officials will not say precisely how they have established that Iran is still working on an atomic bomb. But a wealth of information is emerging from the unravelling of the "nuclear supermarket" supplied by Mr Khan. Western intelligence services were already acting against the nuclear black market before Pakistani authorities began to "debrief" Mr Khan.

It is possible that along with the seizure of maraging steel shipments bound for Libya and North Korea, the intelligence agencies found a similar trail leading to Iran.

Nevertheless, officials admit that their information is still "sketchy".

It is unclear whether Iran has assembled a secret "G2" centrifuge plant, or even whether it has all the necessary components.

Diplomats in Vienna say, for instance, that Libya still had large "holes" in its centrifuge programme before abandoning the project.

"There is much that we don't know," said the senior US source. "We don't know how far the Iranians have gone, but they are making progress. "They are developing a completely indigenous capability. At some point cutting off the external support will not be enough to stop it."
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