New Delhi, Feb. 22: Hours after Tehran admitted today that it bought nuclear components from the black market, it emerged that the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council is arriving in Delhi on Wednesday.
The timing of the expected touchdown in India has fuelled speculation that Hassan Rohani is on a mission to lobby India for help to cushion a possible indictment by the UN nuclear watchdog.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-member board — of which India is a part — will meet in Vienna in the middle of March to take a final view on Iran. In the worst-case scenario, the board could refer the matter to the UN Security Council for punitive action, which can lead to fresh sanctions on Iran.
Rohani yesterday flew to Vienna for a closed-door meeting with the IAEA’s chief Mohammad El Baradei ahead of the release later this week of an interim report on inspections in Iran.
Reuters quoted western diplomats in Vienna as saying that the report would describe Iran’s failure to declare sensitive nuclear technology to the agency in an October declaration of its nuclear programme that Tehran said was true and complete.
Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan has revealed he leaked nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, lifting the lid on global trafficking in knowhow that could be used to make atomic bombs.
Unlike the other two countries, Iran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.
The focus shifted to Iran today when its foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran: “We have bought some things from some dealers but we don’t know what the source was or what country they came from…. It happens that some of those (dealers) were from some sub-continent countries.”
Malaysian police said on Friday that Khan had sold Iran $3 million in centrifuge parts to Iran in the mid-1990s.
Western diplomats in Vienna say Iran has given the IAEA the names of five middlemen and about half a dozen Pakistani scientists who helped Tehran acquire nuclear technology.
Diplomats also say the IAEA has found parts usable in advanced “P2” centrifuges to produce enriched uranium in Iran.
Iran admitted late last year to an 18-year cover-up of sensitive nuclear research and signed up to snap inspections of its nuclear facilities.
Rohani was Iran’s point man who brokered the deal between Tehran and European leaders last year when the country agreed to give up its potentially weapons-related nuclear programme and sign the additional protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, opening itself up for sudden and extensive inspection by the IAEA.
But recent reports suggested that Iran could still be pursuing clandestine nuclear research.
Scheduled to arrive in Delhi on Wednesday evening, Rohani is expected to hold talks with his Indian counterpart, Brajesh Mishra, the next day. He is also likely to call on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and meet foreign minister Yashwant Sinha before leaving on Friday.
Officially, the meetings will be counted as part of the two-level strategic dialogue — between national security advisers and at the level of foreign secretaries — the two countries have been having for the past few years.
Several issues will be discussed but the focus, however, is likely to be on nuclear proliferation. India has adopted a muted stand after the Khan scandal broke.
Unwilling to turn it into yet another India-Pakistan dispute, Delhi has called for an urgent international debate for strengthening existing measures to check future proliferation.