Wednesday, 4th January 2006 (The Guardian)
Ian Cobain and Ian Traynor
Document seen by Guardian details web of front companies and middlemen
The Iranian government has been successfully scouring Europe for the sophisticated equipment needed to develop a nuclear bomb, according to the latest western intelligence assessment of the country’s weapons programmes.
Scientists in Tehran are also shopping for parts for a ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe, with "import requests and acquisitions … registered almost daily", the report seen by the Guardian concludes.
The warning came as Iran raised the stakes in its dispute with the United States and the European Union yesterday by notifying the International Atomic Energy Authority that it intended to resume nuclear fuel research next week. Tehran has refused to rule out a return to attempts at uranium enrichment, the key to the development of a nuclear weapon.
The 55-page intelligence assessment, dated July 1 2005, draws upon material gathered by British, French, German and Belgian agencies, and has been used to brief European government ministers and to warn leading industrialists of the need for vigilance when exporting equipment or expertise to so-called rogue states.
It concludes that Syria and Pakistan have also been buying technology and chemicals needed to develop rocket programmes and to enrich uranium. It outlines the role played by Russia in the escalating Middle East arms build-up, and examines the part that dozens of Chinese front companies have played in North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.
But it is the detailed assessment of Iran’s nuclear purchasing programme that will most most alarm western leaders, who have long refused to believe Tehran’s insistence that it is not interested in developing nuclear weapons and is trying only to develop nuclear power for electricity. Governments in the west and elsewhere have also been dismayed by recent pronouncements from the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said that Holocaust denial is a "scientific debate" and that Israel should be "wiped off the map".
The leak of the intelligence report may signal a growing frustration at Iran’s refusal to bow to western demands that it abandon its programme to produce fuel for a Russian-built nuclear reactor due to come on stream this year.
The assessment declares that Iran has developed an extensive web of front companies, official bodies, academic institutes and middlemen dedicated to obtaining – in western Europe and in the former Soviet Union – the expertise, training, and equipment for nuclear programmes, missile development, and biological and chemical weapons arsenals.
"In addition to sensitive goods, Iran continues intensively to seek the technology and know-how for military applications of all kinds," it says.
The document lists scores of Iranian companies and institutions involved in the arms race. It also details Tehran’s growing determination to perfect a ballistic missile capable of delivering warheads far beyond its borders.
It notes that Iran harbours ambitions of developing a space programme, but is currently concentrating on upgrading and extending the range of its Shahab-3 missile, which has a range of 750 miles – capable of reaching Israel.
Iranian scientists are said to be building wind tunnels to assist in missile design, developing navigation technology, and acquiring metering and calibration technology, motion simulators and x-ray machines designed to examine rocket parts. The next generation of the Shahab ("shooting star" in Persian) should be capable of reaching Austria and Italy.