Iran-Kazakhstan Nuclear Deal Reported
Iran has obtained at least two nuclear warheads that had been reported missing from Kazakhstan, The European newspaper said Thursday.
The article, which cites a secret report from the Russian Foreign Intelligence Agency, again raises questions about whether the successors to the Soviet Union will be able to control their most dangerous weapons.
The European did not say how it had obtained the intelligence report. It quoted the report as saying several nuclear warheads vanished from the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan, which the republic’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, closed early this year.
The European said some intelligence sources believe Nazarbayev was behind the secret nuclear weapons transfer to Iran, trading warheads for oil or hard cash.
Iranian Industry Minister Mohammed Reza Nematzadeh said from Brussels on Thursday that while Iran wants to help rebuild the economy of the ex-Soviet republics, it is “nonsense” to claim it had bought nuclear warheads from them.
“Iran cannot compete with big nuclear powers,” he said. “Therefore, it is not interested in acquiring nuclear weapons.”
In Washington, U.S. intelligence officials have said they have no confirmation of the Russian report, which has surfaced repeatedly since last year.
Two of the nuclear weapons were smuggled across the border from Kazakhstan into Iran last year and now are under the control of Reza Amrollahi, chief of the Iranian Organization for Atomic Energy, according to The European.
It said the Russian report, recently sent to the CIA, disclosed that a third nuclear weapon that disappeared has not been traced but is believed to be in the Middle East.
The European said it is “almost certain” that the missing warheads are nuclear shells, which are relatively small and can be easily moved in an ordinary vehicle.
In Vienna, spokesman Hans Friedrich Meyer said the International Atomic Energy Agency had no knowledge of such a transaction. Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and must report the acquisition of any nuclear material, he said.
The weekly Arabic magazine Al Watan Al Arabi reported in December that Iran took advantage of the chaos in the crumbling Soviet Union to buy components for three nuclear weapons for between $130 million to $150 million and hire more than 50 Soviet nuclear experts to assemble them.
The magazine said the weapons were purchased in an Islamic republic. This points to Kazakhstan, the only republic in mainly Islamic Central Asia with nuclear weapons.
The European quoted unidentified intelligence sources in Germany and France as saying they believe Nazarbayev was behind the secret nuclear weapons transfer to Iran, trading warheads for oil or hard cash.
According to this version, Nazarbayev covered his tracks by letting the information leak that the weapons had been taken by former scientists at the Atomic Research Institute of Kazakhstan who fled to Iran, the paper reported.
The United States and other governments have expressed concern about the spread of nuclear weapons in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine President Leonid Kravchuk said Tuesday that the four nuclear powers among the former Soviet republics--Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Russia--will soon guarantee adherence to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
The United States has been insisting that the republics comply with START, signed before the Soviet collapse. The treaty would drastically slash nuclear arsenals.