VIENNA, Austria (AP) — In another apparent link to the nuclear black market emanating from Pakistan, United Nations inspectors in Iran have discovered undeclared designs of an advanced centrifuge used to enrich uranium, diplomats said Thursday.
The diplomats said preliminary investigations suggested that the design matched drawings of enrichment equipment found in Libya that was supplied through a network headed by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
The revelations came a day after U.S. President Bush, in a keynote speech, acknowledged loopholes in the international enforcement system and urged the U.N. and member states to draw up laws that spell out criminal penalties for nuclear trafficking.
Khan, a national hero in Pakistan for creating a nuclear deterrent against India, confessed on Pakistani television last week to masterminding a network that supplied Libya, Iran and North Korea with nuclear technology. President Pervez Musharraf then pardoned him.
Beyond adding a link to the chain of equipment, middlemen and companies comprising the clandestine nuclear network supplying weapons-related technology to rogue governments, the find cast doubt Tehran’s willingness to open its nuclear activities to international inspection.
Accused of having nuclear weapons ambitions, Iran — which denies the charge — agreed late last year to throw open its programs to pervasive inspections by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency and said it would freely provide information to clear up international suspicions.
But the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iran did not volunteer the designs. Instead, they said, IAEA inspectors had to dig for them.
“Coming up with them is an example of real good inspector work,” one of the diplomats told The Associated Press. “They took information and put it together and put something in front of them that they can’t deny.”
At less enriched levels, uranium is normally used to generate power. Highly enriched, it can be used for nuclear warheads.
Iran — which says it sought to make low enriched uranium — has bowed to international pressure and suspended all enrichment. But it continues to make and assemble centrifuges, a development that critics say also throws into question its commitment to dispel suspicions about its nuclear aims.
The United States and its allies interpret enrichment suspension as encompassing the whole process — including a halt in assemblage of related equipment. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher warned last month that failure by Iran to indefinitely suspend “all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities would be deeply troubling.”
The IAEA continues to negotiate with Iran on what constitutes suspension, but Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency’s director general, also is known to be seeking a commitment from Iran to stop and assembling centrifuges.
The diplomats said Iran had not yet formally explained why the advanced centrifuge designs were not voluntarily handed over to the agency as part of its pledge to disclose all past and present activities that could be linked to weapons.
“They’ll probably say it’s an oversight,” said one of them.