Russian scientist ‘helped Iran with nuclear weapons programme’

‘A Russian scientist may have helped Iran to design advanced detonators whose only possible use would be in a nuclear weapon, according to United Nations inspectors’. So say the UK Daily Telegraph and NY Times, citing anonymous sources. Iran denies this but apparently cannot be shown the evidence against it, and this story could simply be about the Russian weapons scientist sent to Iran by the CIA with fake bomb blueprints in the 2001 Operation Merlin fiasco.

update: see also Merlin Redux at Armscontrolwonk.com

Telegraph story below:

Russian scientist ‘helped Iran with nuclear weapons programme’

A Russian scientist may have helped Iran to design advanced detonators whose only possible use would be in a nuclear weapon, according to United Nations inspectors.

By David Blair, Diplomatic Editor
Last Updated: 6:53PM BST 10 Oct 2008

The Russian’s alleged role was disclosed in a document, obtained by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which describes complex and highly sensitive experiments supposedly conducted inside Iran.

In total, the IAEA possesses 18 official documents which cast doubt on Iran’s explanation that its nuclear programme is a peaceful endeavour intended only to generate electricity.

This evidence – which Tehran claims has been faked – suggests that Iran has studied the crucial stages for building a nuclear weapon. Some documents focus on how to install a warhead in the Shahab-3 missile, while others describe facilities for testing a nuclear device.

The latest document covers the problem of detonating a nuclear device. Its suggestion that a Russian scientist was involved is the first evidence that foreign experts had a direct hand in Iran’s nuclear programme.

But the IAEA believes this individual was not working on behalf of the Russian authorities and was present in Iran on a freelance basis. After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, some Russian nuclear experts are known to have left to work for other governments.

This evidence was presented to diplomats by Olli Heinonen, the IAEA’s chief inspector, during a closed door meeting in February. When Iran’s representative denied that this showed the existence of a nuclear weapons programme, Mr Heinonen said the experiments were “not consistent with any application other than the development of a nuclear weapon”, according to the “New York Times”.

He added that the detonators described in the document were “key components of nuclear weapons”.

The IAEA has repeatedly asked Iran to explain these studies in order to assure the world of the allegedly peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.

British officials believe the UN inspectors have correctly “zeroed in” on the central issue.

They consider the documents outlining these studies to be the strongest evidence that Iran has sought a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s representatives had hoped to persuade the IAEA to confirm the peaceful aims of their nuclear programme. But the inspectors’ focus on Iran’s alleged studies of how to build a weapon appears to have dashed this plan.

Tehran’s continued enrichment of uranium, in breach of five UN Resolutions, has attracted most attention. But this is classic dual use technology.

Uranium enriched to low levels of purity could be used in nuclear power stations. So an enrichment programme alone does not amount to proof of an effort to build a nuclear weapon. British officials believe that the documents allegedly showing that Iran studied the problems involved in making a bomb do provide this proof.

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