AFP: The UN nuclear watchdog is to meet here next week with Pakistani officials as part of its efforts to determine if Iran was using smuggled Pakistani equipment to make enriched uranium that could be used for atom bombs, diplomats said Saturday. Pakistan had in May sent centrifuge parts to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency at its headquarters in Vienna to enable the IAEA to compare microscopic traces of uranium on them with that found on equipment in Iran believed to have been smuggled in from Pakistan. AFP
by Michael Adler
VIENNA – The UN nuclear watchdog is to meet here next week with Pakistani officials as part of its efforts to determine if Iran was using smuggled Pakistani equipment to make enriched uranium that could be used for atom bombs, diplomats said Saturday.
Pakistan had in May sent centrifuge parts to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency at its headquarters in Vienna to enable the IAEA to compare microscopic traces of uranium on them with that found on equipment in Iran believed to have been smuggled in from Pakistan.
The IAEA has concluded that “the highly enriched uranium appears to emanate from Pakistan,” from the imported equipment and not from Iranian enrichment work, a Western diplomat close to the IAEA told AFP.
Enriched uranium, made by passing a uranium gas through a series, or cascade, of centrifuge machines, can be fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors or, in highly refined form, the raw material for atom bombs.
The diplomat said Saturday that a “Pakistani delegation is coming to Vienna to begin talks Monday with IAEA safeguards officials to review the IAEA findings.”
The IAEA’s ruling out that Iran was doing work that could have produced weapons-grade uranium “will be seen by those in favor of Iran as another checkmark in their column” to back up Tehran’s rebuttals of US charges that it is secretly developing nuclear weapons, the diplomat said.
The father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, has admitted to running an international nuclear black market ring that supplied Iran with atomic technology and parts.
The IAEA has since February 2003 been investigating US charges that the Islamic Republic, which says its nuclear program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity, has a covert weapons program.
The enriched uranium contamination issue was a main sticking point in the investigation, although others still remain.
The diplomat said the talks with the Pakistanis were part of a review of the IAEA findings that will later in the month also involve independent experts.
Pakistan had in May insisted that the centrifuge parts it sent to the IAEA remained technically under its control and would be brought back home by Pakistani experts, a second diplomat said.
The diplomat said the Pakistanis did not want anyone outside the IAEA to have access to information that could reveal Pakistani nuclear secrets.
IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozedecky refused to comment on details but said: “The corroboration process continues and we hope to report on the contamination issue in the September report” to the IAEA board of governors.
The September 3 report will be on Iran’s compliance with international nuclear safeguards as well as an IAEA resolution urging it to re-suspend nuclear fuel work in order to continue talks with the European Union on guaranteeing that its atomic program is peaceful.
If Iran does not comply, the EU has threatened to ask the IAEA to bring Iran before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.
The first diplomat said the results of tests comparing the Pakistani equipment with that in Iran for traces of low enriched uranium (LEU), which is below weapons-grade, were “murky.” The diplomat said the “LEU issue will probably never be solved.”
LEU is uranium that is enriched to below 20 percent of the key isotope uranium 235 and which is not considered weapons-grade.
But LEU can relatively easily be enriched up to high levels.
Another diplomat said the inability to resolve the LEU question meant that the investigation’s results “don’t prove Iran’s story is true. They prove it is plausible.”
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said on August 11 that while “all declared (nuclear) material in Iran is under verification… we still are not in a position to say that there is no undeclared materials or activities in Iran.”
“The jury is still out,” ElBaradei said, speaking after an emergency meeting of the IAEA which called on Iran to suspend all fuel-cycle work and ordered the September 3 report.