Ex-in­tel of­fi­cial: Iran’s pro­gram helped greatly by China, Rus­sia

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ELI LAKE

The foun­da­tion of Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram can be traced to ex­ten­sive Chinese and Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion in the 1990s, ac­cord­ing to a for­mer U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial who spe­cial­ized on Tehran’s pro­gram.

“Rus­sian and Chinese co­op­er­a­tion in the 1990s with Iran cre­ated the foun­da­tion of the Ira­nian nu­clear pro­gram to­day,” said Su­san Voss, a for­mer nu­clear en­gi­neer­ing an­a­lyst with Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory who has worked closely with the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.

Many an­a­lysts in re­cent years have fo­cused on how Iran ob­tained the cen­trifuge tech­nol­ogy used at the Natanz nu­clear plant and de­clared to the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency in 2002. That de­sign, known as a P1 cen­trifuge, came from the il­licit smuggling net­work of Pak­istani sci­en­tist A.Q. Khan.

But much of Iran’s pro­gram, in­clud­ing the de­sign of its ura­nium hex­aflouride fa­cil­ity and the re­ac­tor used in its Arak heavy wa­ter fa­cil­ity to pro­duce plu­to­nium, can be traced to co­op­er­a­tion in the 1990s with China and Rus­sia.

Ms. Voss said Chinese co­op­er­a­tion be­gan in 1987 and con­tin­ued for about 10 years. It pro­vided Iran with a ura­nium min­ing ca­pa­bil­ity by pro­vid­ing spe­cial­ists as well as the de­sign for its ura­nium hex­aflouride plant. wrote a tech­ni­cal pa­per de­scrib­ing how the Ira­nian Arak fa­cil­ity con­tained an el­e­ment of its struc­ture that ap­peared to be a copy of the Soviet-era fuel rod sys­tem used in a heavy wa­ter re­ac­tor to make plu­to­nium.

“ISIS put out a doc­u­ment

Many an­a­lysts have fo­cused on how Iran ob­tained the cen­trifuge tech­nol­ogy used at the Natanz nu­clear plant and de­clared to the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency in 2002. That de­sign came from the il­licit smuggling net­work of Pak­istani sci­en­tist A.Q. Khan. But much of Iran’s pro­gram, in­clud­ing the de­sign of its ura­nium hex­aflouride fa­cil­ity and the re­ac­tor used in its Arak heavy wa­ter fa­cil­ity to pro­duce plu­to­nium, can be traced to co­op­er­a­tion in the 1990s with China and Rus­sia.

In the case of Rus­sia, many of Iran’s en­gi­neers were trained at Rus­sian nu­clear labs in the 1990s as well, she said.

An el­e­ment of Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion with Iran was dis­closed first in 2009 by the In­sti­tute for Science and In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity (ISIS) when the pri­vate group where they pulled to­gether ev­ery­thing that shows the Arak fa­cil­ity must have been built with Rus­sian sup­port,” Ms. Voss said.

How­ever, she also pointed out that of­fi­cially the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment at the time de­nied pro­vid­ing that sup­port to Iran, lead­ing her to con­clude that the co­op­er­a­tion was car­ried out covertly.

David Al­bright, a for­mer weapons in­spec­tor and the pres­i­dent ISIS, said the Rus­sian co­op­er­a­tion likely went be­yond the heavy wa­ter re­ac­tor at Arak.

“We know of at least one for- mer nu­clear weapons ex­pert in Rus­sia who helped Iran de­velop a trig­ger­ing mech­a­nism to set off high ex­plo­sives in a nu­clear weapon,” he said.

Ms. Voss says the Ira­ni­ans turned to Rus­sia and China for help with their nu­clear pro­gram af­ter the United States and France cur­tailed nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion with Iran fol­low­ing the 1979 Is­lamic revo­lu­tion.

Nonethe­less, Ms. Voss says U.S. nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion with Iran be­fore 1979 was im­por­tant.

“We would like to say we are in­no­cent, but we are not that in­no­cent,” she said. “Many of the Ira­nian nu­clear en­gi­neers were trained in the United States prior to the Shah’s ouster. Then the train­ing went to China and Rus­sia.”

By the end of the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, much of the above­board nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion pro­vided by Rus­sia and China to Iran had stopped. But some of it con­tin­ues to this day with Rus­sian as­sis­tance for the Bushehr light wa­ter nu­clear re­ac­tor.

“It is not as though we did not give Rus­sia and China a hall pass to sup­port the peace­ful power pro­gram in Iran,” said Henry Sokol­ski, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy Cen­ter.

“We thought we stemmed the trans­fers that mat­tered and the Chinese trans­fers would not re­sult in a ma­jor risk. We were wrong and we looked the other way. In this con­text, the A.Q. Khan trans­fers were ic­ing on this pro­lif­er­a­tion cake.”

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