Iranian nuclear negotiations do not include solving older mysteries

It is one thing for the P5+1 nations to negotiate with Iran about its known, declared nuclear energy programs.  The six nations agree (at least in theory) that it’s imperative to stop Iran from converting its uranium enrichment activities to the high levels (90%) consistent with those needed for a nuclear bomb.

What the P5+1 nations don’t seem to be addressing is the historical evidence for Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program.  These questions are instead being asked, as the negotiations race towards their self-imposed deadline, by the U.N.’s IAEA watchdog group.

The first line of evidence is that Pakistan’s bomb-godfather, A.Q. Khan, during his arrest and interrogation, confessed to selling nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya.  Iran has denied getting anything from A.Q. Khan, but we now know that the master-proliferator was telling the truth about Libya and North Korea, so why would he lie about his third purchaser?

IAEA long ago discovered that Iran was acquiring technical components that have applications only for nuclear bombs, not the “peaceful enrichment” it claims.  Iran doesn’t need exploding bridge wire detonators for its oil sector, as it asserted.  These detonators are so precise that they are needed only for nuclear weapons, which of course is why Iran has them.  The same goes for its “multi-point initiation systems” and hemispherical enriched uranium metallic components – they’re needed only for atomic bombs and have no peaceful uses.  Iran’s also been testing whether these detonators will work at long distances, as in for a ballistic missile.

It’s not just the physical components Iran has acquired.  It’s Iran’s research – research it would apparently be allowed to continue, without inspections, under the agreement being negotiated now.  This research includes “hydrodynamic experiments” that estimate how specific materials might react in a nuclear blast.  A Western intelligence service also gave the IAEA information about an explosives chamber for such experiments that was apparently discovered at the Parchin complex, a military site Iran refuses to grant the IAEA access to.

Tehran’s also been doing experiments on neutron behavior, including using “small capsules” for neutron initiator technology, which, the IAEA writes, “if placed in the center of a nuclear core of an implosion type nuclear device and compressed, could produce a burst of neutrons suitable for initiating a fission chain reaction.”  The plans for this are identical to the plans A.Q. Khan said he sold to Iran.

Documents show that the Islamic Republic has also been doing studies on missile payloads.  The IAEA writes that Iran “conducted computer modelling studies ... of the payload chamber and its contents to examine how they would stand up to the various stresses that would be encountered on being launched and travelling on a ballistic trajectory to a target.”  The IAEA calls this research “highly relevant to a nuclear weapon program.”  Iran calls the documents “forged.”

The IAEA confronted Iran with other documents that show Iran’s designs of a new firing system that would enable the missile payload to explode “both in the air above a target, or upon impact of the re-entry vehicle with the ground.”  The IAEA had the designs analyzed, and it was concluded that any payload option other than nuclear “could be ruled out,” because only nukes would have such an airburst option.

All this research has been conducted in Iran, not under some peaceful energy agency, but under the Ministry of Defense.

But of all the information leaked out of the P5+1 talks, this bit is the most disturbing: no version of any agreement includes accounting for any of these historical mysteries revealed (but never solved) by the IAEA.

Christopher S. Carson is a lawyer and holds a masters in national security studies.

It is one thing for the P5+1 nations to negotiate with Iran about its known, declared nuclear energy programs.  The six nations agree (at least in theory) that it’s imperative to stop Iran from converting its uranium enrichment activities to the high levels (90%) consistent with those needed for a nuclear bomb.

What the P5+1 nations don’t seem to be addressing is the historical evidence for Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program.  These questions are instead being asked, as the negotiations race towards their self-imposed deadline, by the U.N.’s IAEA watchdog group.

The first line of evidence is that Pakistan’s bomb-godfather, A.Q. Khan, during his arrest and interrogation, confessed to selling nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya.  Iran has denied getting anything from A.Q. Khan, but we now know that the master-proliferator was telling the truth about Libya and North Korea, so why would he lie about his third purchaser?

IAEA long ago discovered that Iran was acquiring technical components that have applications only for nuclear bombs, not the “peaceful enrichment” it claims.  Iran doesn’t need exploding bridge wire detonators for its oil sector, as it asserted.  These detonators are so precise that they are needed only for nuclear weapons, which of course is why Iran has them.  The same goes for its “multi-point initiation systems” and hemispherical enriched uranium metallic components – they’re needed only for atomic bombs and have no peaceful uses.  Iran’s also been testing whether these detonators will work at long distances, as in for a ballistic missile.

It’s not just the physical components Iran has acquired.  It’s Iran’s research – research it would apparently be allowed to continue, without inspections, under the agreement being negotiated now.  This research includes “hydrodynamic experiments” that estimate how specific materials might react in a nuclear blast.  A Western intelligence service also gave the IAEA information about an explosives chamber for such experiments that was apparently discovered at the Parchin complex, a military site Iran refuses to grant the IAEA access to.

Tehran’s also been doing experiments on neutron behavior, including using “small capsules” for neutron initiator technology, which, the IAEA writes, “if placed in the center of a nuclear core of an implosion type nuclear device and compressed, could produce a burst of neutrons suitable for initiating a fission chain reaction.”  The plans for this are identical to the plans A.Q. Khan said he sold to Iran.

Documents show that the Islamic Republic has also been doing studies on missile payloads.  The IAEA writes that Iran “conducted computer modelling studies ... of the payload chamber and its contents to examine how they would stand up to the various stresses that would be encountered on being launched and travelling on a ballistic trajectory to a target.”  The IAEA calls this research “highly relevant to a nuclear weapon program.”  Iran calls the documents “forged.”

The IAEA confronted Iran with other documents that show Iran’s designs of a new firing system that would enable the missile payload to explode “both in the air above a target, or upon impact of the re-entry vehicle with the ground.”  The IAEA had the designs analyzed, and it was concluded that any payload option other than nuclear “could be ruled out,” because only nukes would have such an airburst option.

All this research has been conducted in Iran, not under some peaceful energy agency, but under the Ministry of Defense.

But of all the information leaked out of the P5+1 talks, this bit is the most disturbing: no version of any agreement includes accounting for any of these historical mysteries revealed (but never solved) by the IAEA.

Christopher S. Carson is a lawyer and holds a masters in national security studies.