- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

TEHRAN — Iran publicly acknowledged for the first time yesterday that it once bought nuclear equipment from middlemen on the Asian subcontinent, lending credence to a recent report that detailed black-market nuclear deals between a Pakistani scientist and Iran and Libya.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi did not go into details, but repeated Tehran’s claims that its efforts to acquire nuclear technology were strictly energy-related and were never intended for weapons development.

“We purchased some [nuclear] parts from some dealers, but we don’t know what was the source or which country they came from,” Mr. Asefi told reporters. “It happened that some of the dealers were from some subcontinent countries.”

Last week, Malaysian police released a report summing up a three-month investigation that said Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, sold uranium-enrichment equipment via middlemen on the subcontinent to Iran for $3 million in the mid-1990s.

Mr. Khan has admitted selling technology and know-how to Iran, Libya and North Korea. The report also said that Mr. Khan’s network had sold the uranium compound UF6 to Libya and helped it set up an enrichment plant.

Mr. Asefi said Iran had already told the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, that it had bought some equipment. But because it was working through middlemen, it didn’t know from whom.

“We have said from the beginning that we acquired some equipment from some dealers. We haven’t mentioned any specific scientist or government organization,” Mr. Asefi said.

Diplomats say Iran has privately told the IAEA that it bought centrifuge parts from middlemen.

The IAEA is expected by early this week to finish a report on Iran’s nuclear program, which is being drawn up for discussion at a top-level agency meeting next month.

At that meeting, the 35-member IAEA board of governors will also discuss a progress report on Libya, which late last year acknowledged trying to develop weapons of mass destruction and pledged to scrap them.

The revelations raise new questions about whether Iran is sincere about dispelling suspicions that it is trying to make atomic arms. Iran signed an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty late last year allowing unfettered inspections of its nuclear sites. It also suspended its uranium-enrichment program.

The United States accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons.

“We remain committed to our obligations under the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Mr. Asefi said. “We’ve never pursued nuclear arms and will never do so.”

Diplomats in Vienna, Austria, have revealed that U.N. inspectors searching Iran’s nuclear files earlier this month found drawings of high-tech equipment that could be used to make weapons-grade uranium, including a P-2 centrifuge, more advanced than the P-1 model Iran has acknowledged using to enrich uranium.

Mr. Asefi said Iran had informed the Vienna-based IAEA of its research into the P-2.

“There was some research work that was not utilized and we had informed the IAEA about that in due time,” he said.

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