By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA, May 20 (Reuters) – Iran has been using front companies to skirt international export controls and purchase a graphite compound that can be used in nuclear and conventional arms, an Iranian exile said on Friday.
The latest allegation from Alireza Jafarzadeh, an Iranian dissident who has reported accurately on Iran’s hidden nuclear facilities and activities in the past, comes days before the European Union meets Iran’s top nuclear negotiator in Geneva to persuade Tehran not to resume sensitive atomic work.
"Iran has been smuggling into the country a key material that is important to build a nuclear bomb," said Jafarzadeh, who was a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) before it was listed as a terrorist organisation by the U.S. State Department and its Washington offices were shut down.
Speaking to Reuters from Washington where he runs a consulting firm, Jafarzadeh said the controlled substance is a graphite compound called ceramic matrix composite.
"Iran is smuggling it into the country for its nuclear weapons programme," Jafarzadeh said, adding that Iran was also trying to manufacture the substance itself.
He said his information came from "well-placed sources inside Iran".
"Iran has been bypassing export controls with the help of front companies, including one in Dubai," Jafarzadeh said. He said some of the graphite was purchased in China and that the end users were linked to Iran’s defence industry.
Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment. Tehran rejects U.S. allegations that its nuclear energy programme is a front to develop nuclear weapons, saying it is only interested in the peaceful generation of electricity.
Graphite has numerous civilian uses, such as in the production of steel. However, it also has uses in conventional and nuclear missiles — such as the preparation of shells or casings for weapons-grade uranium used in nuclear warheads.
CRITICAL FOR WEAPONS SYSTEMS
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, ceramic matrix composites are strictly controlled substances that are critical for weapons systems technologies.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been investigating Iran’s nuclear programme for over two years. It has found many hidden activities that could be linked to arms but no clear proof Tehran has a secret atom bomb programme.
Iran hid the most sensitive parts of its atomic programme — including its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz — from the IAEA for 18 years until Jafarzadeh exposed them in August 2002.
IAEA officials were not available for comment.
Some non-proliferation analysts, such as former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright, have said Jafarzadeh and the NCRI always time their allegations to coincide with an EU-Iran meetings or IAEA board meetings.
Jafarzadeh rejected this criticism.
"Do these people want me to keep silent because there are negotiations with Iran? … I put out information when I get it," Jafarzadeh said.
The EU’s big three — France, Britain and Germany — have a meeting with Iran in Geneva on Wednesday, EU diplomats told Reuters. The EU hopes to persuade Iran to continue its freeze of sensitive nuclear work to avert an international crisis.
Iran smuggling graphite compound for nukes
By Louis Charbonneau