Reuters: Iran has been using front companies to import a type of steel that can be used for the casing of a nuclear bomb and for machines that can enrich uranium to weapons-grade, an exile group said on Thursday. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said the country was seeking to produce its own maraging steel and skirt international export controls by importing it.
By Kerstin Gehmlich
PARIS – Iran has been using front companies to import a type of steel that can be used for the casing of a nuclear bomb and for machines that can enrich uranium to weapons-grade, an exile group said on Thursday.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said the country was seeking to produce its own maraging steel and skirt international export controls by importing it.
The group, which seeks to oust Iran’s clerical rulers, has given accurate information in the past on some of Iran’s nuclear facilities and the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog said it would study its latest charges.
Iran says its nuclear programme will be used only to generate electricity. But Washington and European countries fear Tehran could use its nuclear plants to produce bombs.
“The regime is using maraging steel to build the casing and containers for missiles as well as external rotors of missile engines,” Mohammad Mohaddessin of the NCRI told a news conference in Paris.
Maraging steel, a high-strength alloy harder than normal steel, is a controlled substance with both civilian and military uses.
The NCRI is the political wing of the People’s Mujahideen, an armed guerrilla movement listed as a terrorist group by the United States.
Mohaddessin said Iran used front firms to import maraging steel, naming the ASCOTEC company in Tehran, which has offices in Germany, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
“Malaysia is one country where maraging steel is obtained from,” he said, adding he did not know how much of the metal Iran had already obtained.
“The regime has been trying to obtain maraging steel both through smuggling from abroad and by producing it inside the country,” he said.
Mohaddessin said Iran was conducting research on maraging steel production at Malek Ashtar university in Tehran, a centre affiliated with the defence ministry.
Maraging steel is an essential component of advanced P-2 centrifuges. Tehran says its work on P-2 centrifuges has not gone beyond preliminary stages, though the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has yet to verify that assertion.
The IAEA has been investigating Iran’s nuclear programme for over two years. It has found many hidden activities that could be linked to arms but no clear proof Tehran has a secret atom bomb programme.
Iran hid the most sensitive parts of its atomic programme — including its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz — from the IAEA for 18 years until the NCRI exposed them in August 2002.
“We have received the NCRI’s statement and we will study it,” IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said, referring to the exile movement’s latest charge.
The NCRI’s comments came just a week before diplomats from France, Britain and Germany are to offer Iran a package of incentives to give up suspect nuclear work after new hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes office next Wednesday.
But signs are growing that Tehran will not take the bait.
Outgoing President Mohammad Khatami said on Wednesday that Iran would resume some work on its nuclear fuel cycle, which the West suspects is part of a clandestine effort to produce the bomb, regardless of what the so-called EU3 group offers.