Iran's nuclear smokescreen

Iran forks over evidence of its nuclear technology acquisitions, but won't let the IAEA inspect certain sites or agree to stop enriching uranium.

By Page Rockwell
Published March 1, 2005 10:52PM (EST)

As speculation abounds as to whether the U.S. will address the potential nuclear threat in Iran by invading, the Bush administration hasn't offered much in the way of clarification. Last week, President Bush undercut his assertion that "This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous," with the contradictory warning, "And having said that, all options are on the table." (Maybe it wasn't the notion of an attack itself that Bush found ridiculous but rather the suggestion that the U.S. is ready to do so. The reconstruction of Iraq does have the U.S. military stretched pretty thin.)

But Bush isn't the only one contradicting himself on the subject of Iran's nuclear program. Although the Iranian government has denied it has any interest in building the bomb, the <a href=" " target="_blank">New York Times reported yesterday that "Iranian officials have reluctantly turned over new evidence strongly suggesting that Iran discussed acquiring technologies central to making nuclear arms and hid that fact for 18 years, according to American and European officials."

The evidence in question is a document, dated 1987, in which representatives of Pakistan nuclear expert Abdul Qadeer Khan offer Iran a package of nuclear technologies. Iran admits it purchased nuclear technology that year, but, the Washington Post reported Sunday, "Tehran recently told the International Atomic Energy Agency that it turned down the chance to buy the more sensitive equipment required for building the core of a bomb."

Still, Iran's not off the hook yet. According to IAEA officials, the Post reported, "There is evidencethat Iran used the offer as a buyer's guide, acquiring some of the pricier items elsewhere."

In the days since the potentially damning document became public, the nuke news from Iran has been a mixed bag. While Cyrus Nasseri, head of the Iranian delegation at the country's meetings with the IAEA in Vienna, said today that Iran plans to provide "credible assurances" that it's not building nuclear weapons, Iran has denied IAEA requests to return to its Parchin military base, where the U.S. believes Iran has been conducting nuclear tests. And although President Bush has indicated that the U.S. may join in the European offer of economic incentives in exchange for Iran's ending production of enriched uranium, Iran hasn't demonstrated any flexibility on the issue so far. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi acknowledged that Iran's nuclear capabilities have left the international community with its hands tied: "We have mastered the technology, so the Europeans know that they cannot employ the language of force."

Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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