- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

VIENNA, Austria — Iran has been combing Europe and former Soviet states for materials and expertise for potential use in making atomic bombs, according to a leaked intelligence report likely to heighten tensions over Tehran’s nuclear drive.

British, French, German and Belgian agencies pooled findings in a 55-page report used to brief governments of the European Union, three of which are conducting talks with Iran in an effort to rein in its nuclear-fuel development program.

The intelligence document, dated July 1, said a large and sophisticated web of Iranian straw companies, academic institutes and middlemen were focusing on Europe and ex-Soviet republics to acquire nuclear technology and know-how.

Asked about the report, which was leaked to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, diplomats close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) cautioned that it offered no evidence that Iran was obtaining products of exclusive use in building nuclear weapons.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the Guardian story was designed to “negatively affect Iran’s transparent measures and its cooperation with the IAEA.”

Iran, which said Tuesday that it would soon end a voluntary suspension of its atomic fuel research, maintains that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.

But the existence of the intelligence report was confirmed to Reuters yesterday by a European diplomat who had seen a summary.

“The names of the Iranian companies change every month. Europe is the ideal place for them because it has so many medium- and small-sized companies highly specialized in relevant fields,” the diplomat said.

“They are also beyond state controls and lack the understanding that their products, such as medical equipment, have a ‘dual use’ for both civilian and military applications.”

Mr. Asefi accused Iran’s enemies, including Israel, of planting the story in the press.

“It’s obvious that poisoning and contaminating the international atmosphere and disseminating false information is in accordance with the wishes of those who have sabotaged our process from the very start,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted him as saying.

“Such approaches are aimed at pressuring the Islamic Republic of Iran, but Iran will continue its justice-seeking approach to preserve the right of the Iranian nation to develop peaceful nuclear technology,” he added.

Iran’s insistence on enriching uranium, a key element in both civilian nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs, on its soil after a track record of hiding atomic work from U.N. inspectors has stoked the suspicions of the European Union and United States.

The intelligence document said Russia, which is building Iran’s first nuclear reactor, and other ex-Soviet republics were being targeted by Iranian operatives for their nuclear scientists, who are often poorly paid or out of work.

The Guardian and the diplomat said the intelligence report listed scores of Iranian firms, institutes, academic bodies and state offices said to be involved in research, development and procurement for nuclear, biological and chemical arms.

It also said Syria, Pakistan and North Korea were part of a global black market in illicit weapons parts.

At first glance, “this report is rather surprising since there’s been this assumption that nuclear network activity had abated considerably since the confessions of A.Q. Khan,” said a diplomat close to the IAEA, referring to the Pakistani nuclear scientist who aided Iran, Libya and North Korea.

The document also detailed Tehran’s attempts to build a missile capable of reaching Israel and southern Europe, according to the Guardian and the European diplomat.

Diplomats said Tuesday that Iran’s stated intention to resume atomic fuel research and development on Monday dealt a blow to EU efforts to talk Iran out of its uranium enrichment drive.

A vote on U.N. Security Council referral could be held at a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation governing board on March 6.

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