New York Times: Presenting a united front against Iran, President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said Friday that they would press Iran to reverse itself and accept a compromise allowing it to enrich uranium, but only in Russia and under strict controls.
New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER and WILLIAM J. BROAD
PUSAN, South Korea, Nov. 18 – Presenting a united front against Iran, President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said Friday that they would press Iran to reverse itself and accept a compromise allowing it to enrich uranium, but only in Russia and under strict controls.
The plan would let Iran enrich uranium only to levels suitable for use in nuclear reactors, using Russian technology. “We hope that over time Iran will see the virtue of this approach, and it may provide a way out,” Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, told reporters here on Friday, after the two leaders met.
Separately, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a new report about Iran to its board on Friday, showing that Iran was offered information in 1987 that could have helped it cast uranium into the precise shapes needed to build the core of a nuclear bomb.
The engineering drawings were offered by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani head of what was the world’s largest nuclear black market, but Iran said it never sought the information. It has previously acknowledged buying centrifuges from the Khan network, but said it used them to enrich uranium for commercial power reactors, not atomic bombs.
While the report made no reference to weaponry, it indicated that the Khan network offered to help Iran shape uranium metal into “hemispherical forms,” which arms experts said suggested the making of bomb cores.
The report made no reference to information from what American officials contend is a stolen Iranian laptop computer. The officials have said in recent briefings with allies that the information on the computer indicates work toward developing an atomic weapon.
The report noted some increased cooperation by Iran since the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted in September that Iran had withheld important data and threatened to refer the country to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions. But the referral would require another vote, which Russia and China have opposed.
Until a few days ago, the United States seemed poised to press for a vote on the issue when the agency’s board meets late next week. But in recent days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who attended the meeting with Mr. Putin, has signaled that she may delay that vote again, perhaps in hopes of gathering more votes.
“The Russians are getting very, very frustrated with the refusal of the Iranians to move to a middle ground,” one senior American official said. A senior Russian delegation that went to Tehran last week was unable to persuade the Iranians to consider giving up enriching uranium on their own soil, the American officials said.
Mr. Bush’s meeting with Mr. Putin here, on the edges of the annual Asian economic summit, was partly intended to close differences between Washington and Moscow about how to deal with Iran.
But the two men also discussed oil, North Korea’s nuclear program and growing American concerns that Mr. Putin is rolling back democratic advances that Russia has made in the past decade.
Most recently, the administration has been pressuring Mr. Putin on new legislation introduced by Mr. Putin’s party last week in the Duma, the lower house of Parliament. The legislation would prevent foreign nongovernmental organizations from opening offices in Russia and would prevent Russian organizations that engage in political activity from getting money from outside the country.
Russian officials appear particularly concerned about human rights groups that focus on Chechnya and groups that they worry could help finance a political opposition.
Mr. Hadley said the proposed law “was a subject of discussion today,” but called the talk confidential and said it was best conducted “outside of public view.”
Under the nuclear plan proposed by Russia and endorsed by Britain, France and Germany – which are leading the talks with Iran – Tehran would be permitted to continue to convert raw uranium into a gas form, called uranium hexafluoride. That gas can be enriched if processed by high-speed centrifuges, which made up most of the technology Dr. Khan’s network sold Iran in 1987 and in deals that resumed in 1994.
Under the new plan, Iran would no longer be able to enrich uranium on its soil. The Iranian government has said it will never give up its right to enrich, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Mr. Hadley, in describing the proposed compromise in public for the first time on Friday, said that Iran, “while retaining its right to enrichment and reprocessing, would, nonetheless, find it in its interest to give up that right in terms of its own territory.”
An enrichment facility would be built in Russia, “in which Iran would have management and financial interest, but not a technical interest,” he added. In other words, Iran would have no control over the level to which the uranium is enriched, preventing it from making bomb fuel.
“This is an interesting idea,” Mr. Hadley said. “The Iranians, probably not surprisingly, initially have said no.” But he said he hoped Iran would come around.
Russia would benefit financially from the deal, and would hope to also attract enrichment business from other nations. But Russian authorities were frustrated by the reception they have gotten so far from Iran. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has put off visiting the country in coming days because he did not want to come away empty-handed.
As for the atomic agency’s disclosure about casting and forming uranium metal into hemispheres, it is no secret that such shapes are often a prerequisite for making a nuclear bomb. Books tell how two hemispheres of uranium or plutonium are joined to make a weapon’s spherical core.
Although reports this year on the Iranian program disclosed Dr. Khan’s offer of uranium casting expertise to Iran, and the possibility of its application to nuclear arms, they made no mention of the signature geometry of the hemispheres.
In interviews Friday in the United States, scientists who have designed nuclear arms said the details of Dr. Khan’s offer made it clear that the sensitive information was probably intended for the development of nuclear arms, rather than reactors.
“They point pretty heavily to a weapons interest,” said Siegfried S. Hecker, director of the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico from 1986 to 1997 and now a visiting professor at Stanford University.
Dr. Hecker added that some elements of the offer could be applied to reactors, but that others had no use other than in nuclear arms.
“It signals pretty clearly that he’s giving a recipe for bomb production,” Dr. Hecker said.
Ray E. Kidder, a retired weapon designer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, agreed. “It’s reasonably clear that this would be related to bombs,” he said, noting that uranium and plutonium hemispheres could aid arms research as well being used to make bomb cores.
As for the laptop computer, American officials have said in secret briefings that it contained more than 1,000 pages of documents, written in Persian, showing what they described as a long Iranian effort to design a nuclear warhead.
Nuclear experts in Europe and the United States who have examined the documents have said the computer contained no plans for the ball of radioactive fuel in a bomb’s core, but instead showed studies for the surrounding nose cone as well as essential bomb components, like a telltale sphere of detonators of the kind used to trigger an atomic explosion. Many analysts in Europe and the United States have interpreted such information as indicating that the Iranians are trying to design a nuclear warhead.
However, some analysts have disagreed, saying an impostor could have forged the documents. Others have raised the possibility that rogue Iranian missile scientists did the studies without the knowledge of central authorities in Tehran.
Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency said the new report made no mention of the information from the computer because the claims had emerged only in secretive briefings rather than as part of the agency’s formal agenda. So far, the United States has refused to declassify the computer information, making it impossible for the agency to seek a detailed explanation from the Iranians.
David E. Sanger reported from Pusan for this article, and William J. Broad from New York.