Moscow has floated the idea that, rather than use Iranian territory to carry out uranium enrichment, Tehran could do so as part of an international joint venture on Russian soil. While the EU appeared to reject the Russian proposal several months ago, today they are asking for more details and even the US has indicated interest. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said: "The Russians...want to do what we all want to do, which is they want to pursue a diplomatic path and see if the Iranians will come along". But it is by no means certain that the Russians can produce a mutually satisfactory solution. On Oct. 25 Mottaki said even if its nuclear programme was referred to the Security Council, Iran would fight on for its right to nuclear power.
Citing "diplomats and officials" as its sources, The Associated Press on Oct. 20 reported that Iran had given IAEA inspectors key documents about activities which could be used to make a nuclear weapon and allowed them to question a senior official suspected of involvement in the programme. The news agency said the IAEA hoped Iran's recent decision to co-operate with it will shed light on whether the country's military engaged in secret uranium enrichment activities.
At issue is how much centrifuge and related technology the country acquired on the black market starting in the 1980s and the location of the equipment - which can enrich uranium to low-grade fuel or the fissile core for nuclear warheads. There are suspicions that some of the material had not been declared to the IAEA and had been used by the military for a nuclear weapons programme.
The AP quoted a US official "who is familiar with the Iran issue" as describing Tehran's decision to co-operate on the documents and permitting questioning of the official after nearly two years of foot-dragging as "important concessions". The AP quoted the official as saying the decision helped chip away at some of the issues; but he stressed that Tehran still needed to meet IAEA requests for access to military sites which Washington has identified as possibly being used for nuclear weapons-related experiments and other demands.
For the US, however, Iran's readiness to co-operate is a mixed blessing. The AP quoted a diplomat as saying Iran's new willingness to co-operate on the enrichment issue - agreed to during a recent visit to Tehran by Olli Heinonen, an IAEA deputy secretary-general - seemed to be directly calculated to blunt the threat of Security Council referral as early as November by weakening the argument that Iran was not co-operating with the IAEA probe of its nuclear activities.
The AP quoted a "diplomat close to the IAEA" as cautioning against early optimism that Iran's decision would quickly clear up suspicions of the existence of a military enrichment programme so secret that even parts of the civilian power structure did not know about it. He said the concession was "part of the process" and that there was still much to learn. The AP quoted the official "familiar with the process" as saying IAEA questioning of Iranian officials was never one-on-one and the Iranian being interviewed was probably carefully briefed on what to divulge.
The news agency added: "All of those speaking to the AP declined to go into details about whom Heinonen was able to talk to and what documents he was given, saying such exposure could result in Iran breaking off its cooperation. Asked about the Iran inquiry, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said 'the agency does not comment on ongoing investigations until it's time to report to the (IAEA) board of governors'".
Underpinning suspicions about a secret military enrichment programme are previous declarations by Tehran that members of the black market network offered Iranian officials P-1 centrifuge designs in 1987 - only to offer the same designs seven years later to a different set of officials.
The IAEA is questioning claims by the Iranians that - while it received designs for the more advanced P-2 centrifuge in 1995 - Tehran did not start development until 2002. That, say experts with former links to the agency, may suggest secret work by the military which has not been declared to IAEA inspectors. Work prepared for the September board report by IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei says as much, declaring the evidence provided to explain the gap does "not yet provide sufficient assurance that no related activities were carried out during that period".
Iran's nuclear development programme is said to be controlled exclusively by the IRGC, which has become a huge institution. The IRGC is an ideological military organisation with its own independent command, comprised of ground, naval and air forces. This makes Iran the only country in the world to operate two completely independent military structures (i.e, the regular military and the IRGC). Aside from being a military organisation, the IRGC has security/intelligence capabilities and civilian infrastructure, including industries and engineering companies. Its military industries include units which produce highly explosive devices and bombs that can penetrate heavy armour, such as those being used by Hizbollah against Israel from southern Lebanon and anti-US/anti-UK insurgents in Iraq.
For instance, the best specialised medical clinics in Iran, particularly those pertaining to dentistry and laser eye surgery, are owned and operated by the IRGC. Overall, the IRGC directly employs up to 350,000 personnel, 120,000 of whom serve in its ground, naval and air forces. The IRGC, as a vast organisation, is subject to intense discipline.
The IRGC is said to have transferred some of its bomb technology to the insurgents in Iraq, which is at the heart of US and British governments' accusations. The technology involves specially shaped charges. But this is up to 50 years old and there is nothing particularly "Iranian" about it. It has been used in a variety of conflicts, notably in Sri Lanka, where it has been deployed by the Tamil Tigers.
This technology was also known to the Ba'thist regime of Saddam's military intelligence service. In fact, this service closely tracked Iran's military relationship with Hizbollah, and had even sent a specialised team to Lebanon in 1995 to study Hizbollah tactics against Israel. This expertise is being widely used by Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgents who are mostly led by former Ba'thist secret agents against US forces in the country's vast Sunni Arab Triangle. Similar bombs are being used by Shi'ite insurgents against British forces in southern Iraq.
The IRGC's specialised but secret atomic units are said to be close to mastering the nuclear fuel cycle.
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|Publication:||APS Diplomat News Service|
|Date:||Oct 31, 2005|
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