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Posting in full since it will lost in 7 days: Pakistan link to Iran nuclear plan suspected ATOMIC CAPABILITY WAS GAINED IN SECRET
By Joby Warrick Washington PostPosted on Sun, Dec. 21, 2003 VIENNA
- Evidence discovered in a probe of Iran's secret nuclear program points overwhelmingly to Pakistan as the source of crucial technology that put Iran on a fast track toward becoming a nuclear weapons power, according to U.S. and European officials familiar with the investigation.
The discoveries prompted a decision by Pakistan two weeks ago to detain three of its top nuclear scientists for several days of questioning, with U.S. intelligence experts allowed to assist, the officials said. The scientists have not been charged with any crime, and Pakistan continues to insist that it never knowingly provided nuclear assistance to Iran or anyone else.
Documents provided by Iran to U.N. nuclear inspectors since early November have exposed the outlines of a vast, secret procurement network that successfully acquired thousands of sensitive parts and tools from numerous countries over a 17-year period.
While Iran has not directly identified Pakistan as a supplier, Pakistani individuals and companies are strongly implicated as sources of key blueprints, technical guidance and equipment for a pilot uranium-enrichment plant that was exposed by Iranian dissidents 18 months ago, government officials and independent weapons experts said. Facility unnoticed
While American presidents since Ronald Reagan worried that Iran might seek nuclear weapons, U.S. and allied intelligence agencies were unable to halt Iran's most significant nuclear acquisitions, or even to spot a major nuclear facility under construction until it was essentially completed.
Although the alleged transfers occurred years ago, suggestions of Pakistani aid to Iran's nuclear program have further complicated the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, a key ally in the war against terrorism.
In documents and interviews with investigators of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iranian officials have offered detailed accounts of how they obtained sensitive equipment from European, Asian and North American companies. Much of the equipment was routed through a transshipment hub in the Persian Gulf port city of Dubai to conceal the actual destination, according to officials familiar with Iran's disclosures.
China and Russia also made significant contributions to the Iranian program in the past, IAEA documents show. Both countries were the focus of a long-running U.S. campaign to cut off nuclear assistance to Iran.
The disclosures about Pakistan offer a striking illustration of the difficulties faced by U.S. officials in trying to detect and interdict shipments of contraband useful in making weapons of mass destruction. Iran appears to have obtained the equipment by exploiting a gray zone of porous borders, go-betweens, front companies and weak law enforcement where the components of such weapons are bought and sold.
Iran's pilot facility, which is now functional, and a much larger uranium-enrichment plant under construction next door are designed to produce enough fissile material to make at least two dozen nuclear bombs each year. The United States has sought for years to prevent Iran from joining the group of nuclear weapons states.
In a new finding, sophisticated laboratory tests by the IAEA detected traces of Soviet-made highly enriched uranium at Iran's Kalaye nuclear facility, a former testing center for uranium-enrichment equipment, knowledgeable officials said. Wrong focus
It is unclear exactly why the United States and its allies failed to detect and halt Iran's most significant nuclear acquisitions.
One possible reason, according to some former government officials and outside experts, is that U.S. agencies were looking in the wrong place. American administrations since the late 1980s viewed the Soviet Union and then Russia as the most likely source of nuclear aid to Iran, launching intensive efforts to persuade Moscow to sever or scale back technological links to the Islamic Republic.
``For too long, we were running our Iran policy through Moscow,'' said Jon Wolfsthal, a non-proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ``We saw Russia as Iran's main source of technology, and if shut off, the flow to Iran's program would freeze in its tracks. That was shortsighted.''
Former top U.S. proliferation officials contend that the attention paid to Russia was hardly misplaced. The United States foiled several efforts by Iran to obtain sensitive technology from Russia in the 1990s. But some officials acknowledged they were stunned to learn of the progress Iran had made with the help of partners closer to home.
Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, insisting that it is only exercising its right to develop a civilian nuclear power industry, including its own indigenous supply of nuclear fuel. Russia is helping Iran build a nuclear power plant in the port city of Bushehr that both countries insist is a civilian nuclear project.
Doubts are already being voiced regarding whether the IAEA, or anyone, will be able to provide definitive answers about Iran's nuclear history and future intentions, said Henry Sokolski, a former Defense Department adviser on non-proliferation.
``What is most worrying is not what the Iranians did in the past, but rather, what they're going to do,'' said Sokolski.