Washington, Dec. 16: US intelligence officials have concluded that Russia supplied Iran with much of the equipment and expertise used to build two new facilities that appear to US intelligence to be part of a nuclear weapons programme.
The case is the latest example of the Bush administration’s growing difficulties with nations that it has hailed as allies in its efforts against al Qaida and other terrorist groups.
Pakistan has been identified by the CIA as both a supplier of nuclear technology to North Korea and a purchaser of North Korean missiles. Yemen took delivery of a shipload of North Korean missiles this weekend, after the shipment had been seized at sea. President Bush and Vice-President Cheney agreed to let it proceed after Yemen’s President angrily told Cheney that the US had no right to interfere.
Iran has denied that it is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and Russia has insisted that all its help has been for energy-related development.
“We are in an uncomfortable position where allies we very much need do not see these proliferation dangers the same way we do,” one senior administration official said yesterday. “Every week, that is getting more and more obvious.”
Russia has long acknowledged aiding Iran’s nuclear power programme, but it has always denied helping it with any project that could help Iran build a weapon. Yesterday, Russia’s atomic energy minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as contending that Iran had violated no international rules in building the two nuclear sites that were revealed last week through commercial satellite photographs. The US said it was “deeply concerned” about the two sites, which have been known to US intelligence agencies for more than a year.
One of the photographs appears to show a heavy water plant, critical for the production of a plutonium-based nuclear bomb.
Another shows a separate facility for producing highly enriched uranium, another path to producing a nuclear weapon.
When President Bush visited Russia earlier this year, he was assured by Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, that Moscow was only aiding Iran in the production of nuclear power plants for peaceful purposes.