Thursday, August 28, 2003

Pakistani Collusion in the Iranian Nuclear Program

The following appeared yesterday in an article in the Washington Post:

Iran Admits Foreign Help on Nuclear Facility
U.N. Agency's Data Point To Pakistan as the Source

By Joby Warrick

Iran has admitted for the first time that it received substantial foreign help in building a secret nuclear facility south of Tehran that is now beginning to enrich uranium, turning it into a key ingredient in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, according to U.N. documents and diplomatic sources.

While Iran has not yet identified the source of the foreign help, evidence collected in Iran by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency implicates Pakistani companies as suppliers of critical technology and parts, officials familiar with a U.N. investigation of Iran's program said yesterday. Pakistan is believed by many proliferation experts to have passed important nuclear secrets to both Iran and North Korea. Pakistan has denied providing such assistance.

[............]

The report also noted that Iran had apparently attempted to sanitize one of its nuclear facilities, known as the Kalaye Electric Co., before granting IAEA inspectors access to the site this summer. "Considerable modifications were observed," the IAEA said of the Kalaye site, which had been identified by an Iranian opposition group as a pilot enrichment facility. IAEA officials were barred from the site during earlier visits.

Over the past 18 months, Iran has begun work on major facilities for processing and enriching uranium, while simultaneously building a separate reactor that can be used in the production of plutonium. The Bush administration contends the facilities are part of an accelerated campaign to build nuclear weapons. Iran's disclosures about its nuclear suppliers were part of an apparent attempt to allay rising international concerns about its nuclear intentions.

Iran's claim of a purely peaceful nuclear program suffered a blow last month when IAEA inspectors discovered traces of highly enriched uranium at a newly constructed facility in Natanz, 200 miles south of Tehran. Iran had denied making enriched uranium at Natanz or any other facility prior to June of this year.

In a new attempt to explain the discrepancy, Iran has told U.N. nuclear officials that the uranium came into the country on contaminated equipment purchased from another country -- specifically, on metal machine parts used in gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium.

[............]

The equipment said to be tainted was from a type of centrifuge acquired by Pakistani scientists in the 1970s and used in Pakistan's domestic nuclear program, two officials familiar with the findings said.

There are two points that need to be made about these developments. The first point is that everything one reads about Iran's nuclear program points to only a single conclusion - that its end-goal is a nuclear arsenal, and nothing else. Countries that are truly interested in the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes do not get cagey when the IAEA asks for permission to carry out more inspections, do not attempt to "sanitize" facilities before the arrival of inspectors, and they certainly do not engage in the sort of serial mendacity that has been the hallmark of the Iranian government whenever its' nuclear program has come under issue. Going on what has come to light so far, pretty much every claim made by Iran on this issue has been a lie, from the extent of the program to the sources of its fuel and technology, right on through to the sort of processing being carried out.

Given the sheer extent of Iranian deceit on this issue, one would have to be a fool to believe anything that comes out of the mouths of Iranian officials, or even to imagine that any sort of diplomatic process could possibly lead to the shutting down of this nascent weapons program. There really is only one way out, and as unpleasant as it may be to say so, it is a military one. The Iranian weapons program must be wiped out by force, even if it means - dare I say it - using low-yield nuclear warheads to ensure that Natanz, Bushehr and all other facilities that have been identified are wrecked beyond all salvageability.

But there is more to this story than Iran's nuclear program, and the other, arguably even more worrying issue here is the role of Pakistan as a proliferator of nuclear technology. There are solid short-term reasons for downplaying the dangers presented by Pakistan's willingness to provide nuclear knowhow to all and sundry, not least of which are the importance of Musharraf's government in rooting out the Taliban, and the importance of keeping Pakistan onside to avoid destabilizing Afghanistan. Nevertheless, over the longer term, Pakistan's political volatility, the shakiness of its' institutions, and the poor state of its' command infrastructure, present a danger to peace. The current charade under which we pretend that Musharraf's government truly speaks for the opinion of the Pakistani man on the street, or even has any long-term future other than as another junta along the lines of Zia-ul-Haq's, is only storing up trouble for the future.