The myth of protection offered by global antiproliferation regimes — including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Fissile Materials Cutoff Treaty — was shattered last month when investigators for the International Atomic Energy Agency began unraveling a clandestine nuclear black market network run by a Pakistani metallurgist, Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Iran, Libya and North Korea were primary recipients of Pakistan’s nuclear technology. Other countries and terrorist groups may yet be exposed as clients of Mr. Khan’s network.
But nowhere has the damage done by Mr. Khan’s illicit activities been more apparent than in Iran, where sham elections two weekends ago returned hard-liners to power, and where now the real possibility exists of nuclear tests being conducted without political opposition.
Iran’s mullahs have longed for nuclear bombs since coming to power in 1980. Their pacifying statements and superficial compliance with IAEA inspection teams are masking an unrelenting drive to buy time for their scientists to complete work on the first Shi’ite Islamic bomb.
There is not a minute to waste in stopping them. With centrifuge technology far more advanced than previously believed, Iran’s scientists have been frantically working away on obtaining critical bomb fuel with as many as three separate programs. The first employs the P-1 centrifuges transferred by Mr. Khan’s network, as well as the far more sophisticated P-2 centrifuges recently revealed to be in Iran’s possession.
The second track makes use of Belarus-Russian filtering and high-temperature melting technologies for uranium enrichment. These facts were revealed by Ahmad Shirzad, a member of Iran’s Parliament representing Isfahan, in late 2003 as he passionately argued Iran’s children were starving while the mullahs processed uranium at secret underground facilities near Parchin (southeast of Tehran) and in the mountains between Qazvin and Karaj (northwest of Tehran).
The third program, in its early stages of development, uses Chinese chemical separation formulas to separate plutonium from Russian-supplied spent uranium fuel rods. Add to these three parallel enrichment programs recently uncovered evidence Tehran possesses Polonium, a key catalyst for fissionable reactions, as well as blueprints to build Chinese-style implosion nuclear devices and that the mullahs are hosting a large contingent of Georgian atomic scientists (first revealed by deposed President Eduard Shevardnadze late last year) and it becomes difficult to believe Iran’s nuclear program is for “peaceful purposes only.”
Strong measures are needed urgently to deal with the growing threat posed by rogue nations and nonstate actors to deal with the proliferation of radiological materials, or worse, when combined with sophisticated plastic explosives — miniaturized “dirty” bombs.
We should start immediately by pressuring Pakistan, where all this started, to provide a fuller picture of Tehran’s current nuclear capabilities.
CIA Director George Tenet’s recent secret visit to Pakistan, reported in the press last week, to begin applying such pressure was a good start. We can only hope his interrogation of Mr. Khan filled in important blanks about who exactly bought what from Pakistan’s brazenly glitzy nuclear brochures.
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf had promised complete transparency when his scientists were caught red-handed in their nuclear mischief. He has good reason to comply with U.S. requests to smoke out the Iranian program because ironically, it was Iran’s mullahs who first revealed the extent of Mr. Khan’s illegal transfers to IAEA inspectors.
Mr. Tenet and others in the business of preventing proliferation need to urgently find out from Pakistan whether other vital components for building atomic weapons (detonation switches, spherical bomb casings, simulators to model implosion data, testing software, etc) also were transferred by Mr. Khan’s network to Iran’s scientists.
The Pakistani data, if made fully available, would enable U.S. diplomats, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, to demand intrusive inspections in Iran of the type Col. Moammar Gadhafi was forced to accept when faced with undeniable evidence of Libya’s nuclear guilt last December. It could also empower the U.S. to build a coalition of nations to bring sufficient diplomatic, economic and military pressure to bear upon Tehran’s mullahs to totally dismantle their nuclear program.
The Powell doctrine of endlessly negotiating and maneuvering with Iran’s clerics is a recipe for nuclear disaster. He approved the January visit of Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations to speak at a Washington think-tank.
He encouraged Britain’s Prince Charles to make a goodwill visit to Tehran and Bam, the earthquake site. He has thus far futilely negotiated for the hand-over of senior al Qaeda operatives hiding in Iran or being sent back into Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the atomic clock keeps on ticking.
To prevent Iran’s ascension into the nuclear club, each of the important countries in a joint U.S.-European-led diplomatic coalition could freeze select Iranian government assets as an insurance policy against potential nuclear tests until dismantling was agreed to and completed.
European Union states could quietly pressure Tehran with economic and trade sanctions, as perhaps Germany did in December when its citizens were kidnapped in Iran and later freed. At the first indication any atomic bomb tests were beyond initial planning stages, the U.S. could move the A2 carrier battle group into the Persian Gulf.
To ensure the mullahs understand how near the end of their nuclear vision might be, visibly positioning several B-2 stealth bombers in Qatar might also send a clear message.
Iran is on the verge of becoming perhaps the world’s most dangerous nuclear state, one capable of proliferating without regard for international agreements and standards of state behavior. This is precisely what Mr. Khan had in mind when he first envisioned the metastasis of his nuclear cancer — contaminate one cell and let others infect the rest.
The disarray and confusion over Iran policy in Washington, Paris, London and Berlin must not allow nuclear tests to take place that could forever change the course of history.
Mansoor Ijaz, a nuclear scientist, is chairman of Crescent Investment Management in New York; his father was an early pioneer in Pakistan’s nuclear program. Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney (U.S. Air Force retired) was Air Force assistant vice chief of staff.