Wall Street Journal: The Bush administration and Western governments are voicing renewed fears that advanced nuclear-weapon designs may have been provided to Iran and North Korea through the smuggling network run by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
The Wall Street Journal
Evidence Suggests Iran, North Korea Might Possess Plans
By JAY SOLOMON
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration and Western governments are voicing renewed fears that advanced nuclear-weapon designs may have been provided to Iran and North Korea through the smuggling network run by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
These fears have been stoked by evidence obtained by Swiss authorities who are prosecuting three European members of Mr. Khan's network in Bern, Western diplomats said.
Swiss President Pascal Couchepin announced last month that his government had destroyed computer files and other data seized from these men because they posed a national-security risk. The Swiss leader noted that the files contained "detailed construction plans for nuclear weapons, for ultracentrifuges to enrich weapons-grade uranium as well as for guided missile-delivery systems."
In 2003, the U.S. and allied governments broke up Mr. Khan's smuggling network, which had delivered centrifuge equipment for uranium-enrichment work to Tehran and Pyongyang and Chinese-based nuclear-weapons designs to Libya.
As a result of the intervention, Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi agreed to dismantle his nuclear program and share intelligence with the U.S., United Kingdom and International Atomic Energy Agency.
Western diplomats said the documents destroyed recently by the Swiss detailed more-advanced nuclear-weapons designs obtained by the Khan network than those found in Libya. Such designs could be used to develop compact nuclear warheads that could be affixed to North Korean and Iranian long-range missile systems.
The fact that the designs were contained on computer files also means they could be shared more easily with potential buyers, whether from governments or terrorist networks, these officials said.
U.S. counterproliferation officials said the intelligence highlighted why additional efforts needed to be made to interview Mr. Khan in Islamabad to get a greater understanding of his network's activities. Mr. Khan is under house arrest, but Pakistan's newly elected civilian government has suggested that the scientist could be released.
"We don't know for certain if Khan gave the designs to Iran or North Korea," said a U.S. counterproliferation official who worked extensively on the Libya case. "But why would you give them to the Libyans and not the North Koreans?"
The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington think tank focused on proliferation threats, is expected to release a report this week detailing the Khan syndicate's possession of the advanced nuclear-weapons designs. The Washington Post and New York Times reported Sunday on the concerns raised by the Swiss intelligence.
Iran's possible possession of the Khan network's weapons designs particularly worries U.S. and Western counterproliferation experts. A U.S. intelligence study released in November found that in 2003 Tehran ceased developing a nuclear-weapon capability, even as it accelerated its attempts to master the nuclear fuel cycle.
But counterproliferation experts in Washington and Europe have voiced skepticism about the U.S. intelligence community's report and note that developing nuclear weapons is relatively easy once the fuel cycle has been developed.
International efforts to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear program, meanwhile, have gained little momentum in recent months. Last week, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, offered Tehran new economic incentives in exchange for its freezing its uranium-enrichment work.
Tehran gave few signs over the weekend that it would agree to the offer, which included assistance in developing a civilian nuclear program.
"If the package includes suspension it is not debatable at all," government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham told reporters Saturday in Tehran.
U.S. diplomats said Iran's rejection of the deal would force Washington to develop a new round of sanctions against Tehran, both unilaterally and through the United Nations. Among the measures being discussed, according to Western diplomats, is a clampdown on the shipments of oil and other refined petroleum projects into Iran, as well as a greater sanctioning of Iran's financial sector.