Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Reuters | Iran may be seeking to buy "Dual Use" gas

Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage: "

Iran said seeking nuke bomb "booster"
Wed 28 July, 2004 11:49

By Louis Charbonneau

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iranian agents are negotiating with a Russian company to buy a substance that can boost nuclear explosions in atomic weapons, according to an intelligence agency report being circulated by diplomats.

The two-page report cited "knowledgeable Russian sources" for the information, which Washington will likely point to as more proof that Tehran wants to acquire nuclear weaponry.

"Iranian middlemen ... are in the advanced stages of negotiations in Russia to buy deuterium gas," the report said.

Iran denies wanting atomic arms and says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. Deuterium is used as a tracer molecule in medicine and biochemistry and is used in heavy water reactors of the type Iran is building.

But it can also be combined with tritium and used as a "booster" in nuclear fusion bombs of the implosion type.

Envoys linked to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said buying deuterium alone was not evidence of intent to acquire a weapons capability.

They cautioned that the report appeared designed to persuade nations who are not convinced Iran wants the bomb.

The United States and others are pushing the IAEA to report Iran to the Security Council for possible punishment with economic sanctions for allegedly seeking nuclear weapons in defiance of its treaty obligations.

"Iran needs to know that they will suffer deeply if they get nuclear weapons," said the diplomat who provided the report.

France, Germany and Britain have been negotiating with Iran to persuade it to cooperate fully with IAEA inspections to allay Western doubts and are resisting referring Tehran to the UN. A further high-level meeting is expected in Paris on Thursday.

DOUBTS OVER TRANSPARENCY

It is not illegal for Iran to purchase deuterium but it should be reported to the IAEA.

Diplomats say the suspicions surrounding Iran's nuclear programme are so great that it would be wise for Tehran to exercise maximum transparency on all such "dual-use" purchases and declare them ahead of time to the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

"Iran has not declared this to the IAEA. Their cover story is that they want it for civilian purposes," said the diplomat who gave Reuters the report.

The report did not name the Russian firm. Moscow has been criticised by Washington for building the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, despite U.S. concerns that it is a cover for Iran to acquire know-how and import items that can be used for bombs.

The report said purchase talks were in the final stages. It added that Iran had tried to produce deuterium-tritium gas -- with the help of Russian scientists -- but had so far failed.

The IAEA declined to comment, Iran's ambassador to the U.N. in Vienna did not return phone calls from Reuters and officials at Iran's embassy in Moscow also made no comment.

An official at Russia's Atomic Energy Agency said he had heard nothing about attempts to buy deuterium. A spokesman for Russia's nuclear watchdog, GosAtomNadzor, said the same.

"We are not aware of any such negotiations or shipments taking place," said the Russian agency official. "I am puzzled. All shipments of sensitive and dangerous gases like deuterium must be carried out with a proper licence."

The U.N. has been investigating Iran's nuclear programme for nearly two years to determine whether allegations that it has a secret atomic weapons programme are false, as Tehran insists.

While it has found many instances where Iran concealed potentially weapons-related activities, the IAEA says it has no clear evidence that Tehran is trying to build the bomb. The United States and its allies say there is sufficient evidence and the agency is being too cautious."

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