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China's positive role on Iran

11/12/2003

It isn't often mentioned, but the Chinese government played an instrumental role in exposing Iran's plutonium separation experiments, thus helping to bring about yesterday's breakthrough on nuclear safeguards.

We are now in somewhat uncomfortable territory with Iran, something like the situation with North Korea following the Agreed Framework, only not even that strong in some respects. Threatening activities have been suspended, but not in a totally comprehensive fashion, and without even a hint of permanent discontinuation. Everything is based on IAEA safeguarding of voluntary pledges that can be interpreted narrowly or lifted at any time. Unlike North Korea, there is no plan or timetable for the elimination of fissile material-related processing facilities. On the positive side of the ledger, there's the Additional Protocol, which should lead to wide-ranging inspection activities.

All in all, we've come a long, long way this year. A hidden, 18-year program has been laid bare, and hopefully stopped. And how did we get there?

Everyone is aware of the role of the NCRI, an Iranian opposition group, in exposing uranium enrichment activities and the planning of a heavy water reactor. But here's another one of the key pieces, from the June 6 report of the IAEA Director General:

7. In addition, in response to the Agency's enquiry about certain transfers of nuclear material to Iran, only recently confirmed by the supplier State in response to repeated Agency enquiries, Iran acknowledged the receipt in 1991 of natural uranium, which had not been reported previously to the Agency...
Here's how the L.A. Times described it back in August:
Officials from two foreign intelligence services said Iranian scientists used nuclear material from a secret shipment from China to help enrich uranium at Kalaye and elsewhere.

China had long denied rumors about transferring nuclear materials to Iran. Early this year, U.N. officials said in interviews, the Chinese admitted selling Iran 1.8 tons of uranium ore and chemical forms of uranium used in the enrichment process in 1991.

Faced with a letter describing China's admission, Iranian authorities acknowledged receipt of the material, said the officials. At the same time, Iran said some of the chemicals were used at Tehran's Jabr ibn Hayan laboratory to make uranium metal, which has no use in Iran's commercial program but is a key part of a nuclear weapon.

What this account overlooks is that, according to the June report, "the supplier State" sent uranium to Iran in three forms, and the Iranians found at least three uses for them, not just the two referenced above: UF6 for centrifuge enrichment experiments, UF4 for metal conversion experiments, and -- here's the key piece -- U02 for isotope production experiments. The latest news accounts indicate, not surprisingly, that the isotope in question turns out not to be iodine, as the Iranians initially claimed after the exposure, but plutonium.

So accounting for these previously unacknowledged supplies eventually led to the discovery of Iran's plutonium reprocessing experimentation.

Addendum. Reviewing the IAEA report suggests that Iran's uranium supplies have been much more diverse and extensive than the Chinese uranium brought to light this summer. It is unclear whether there is a straight line between the "Chinese letter" and Iran's plutonium experiments.

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000110.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Analyst @ 04:59 PM CST [Link]

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