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Uranium Revolution?: Qadeer Abdul Khan and Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

Author: Rob Wood

When the IAEA recently announced that Iran was possibly in breach of the Nuclear Weapons Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and had likely been developing an enrichment plant in the city of Natanz, the worst predictions of some appeared to have come true. The question on many people's lips is where exactly they procured the expertise to build such a plant, given that the Russians agreed not to aid this development. Given that the US suspects the anti-western Pakistani scientist Dr Qadeer Abdul Khan of possible collusion with Al Quaeda, is it that much of a stretch to posit that he could also be a prime candidate for the source of know-how for the new uranium enrichment plant in Iran?

A review of Dr Khan's past involvement in the international proliferation of nuclear weapons makes for long, long… long reading. Dr Khan is most famous for being the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb, an achievement which has won him fame and adoration in his home country. His renown has even led to the formation of a Khan's XI cricket team, quite an honour in cricket-mad Pakistan. But his rise to the top has been gradual. Dr Khan earned his PhD in Europe before going on to work at the joint British / German / Dutch uranium enrichment facility, formed by these countries due to their desire for independence from the US in their own nuclear programs. From there he returned to Pakistan in the late 70s to lead their scientists in developing a domestic nuclear program. Dr Khan was subsequently bought up on charges in Holland for allegedly attempting to steal sensitive information regarding the Dutch nuclear program. The charges were dropped on a legal technicality though he has constantly denied any wrongdoing.

Dr Khan's personal history and rhetoric may make some in western administrations quite nervous. He is well known for his patriotism, which some might argue borders on nationalistic. This may have been borne of his experience of the division of Pakistan and India as a child when he was mistreated by Indian officials, an incident he often refers to in interviews. His regret at the position of Pakistan during the succession of East Pakistan also seems to crop up occasionally. His constant rhetorical aggressiveness reveals a character somewhat resentful of what he perceives as western arrogance and interference in the affairs of Pakistan and the wider Islamic world. It also reveals a certain belief in Islamic solidarity. "They dislike our god, they dislike our prophet, they dislike our leaders and no wonder they dislike anybody who tries to put this country on an independent and self-reliant path." In a 2001 interview he dismissed attacks on his decision to pursue a nuclear bomb for Pakistan by saying, "They dislike me and accuse me of all kinds of unsubstantiated and fabricated lies because I disturbed all of their strategic plans, the balance of power and blackmailing potential in this part of the world." It would perhaps not be too much of a jump to surmise Dr Khan's sympathy for the plight of Iran given the USA's latest adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, which serve to surround the Islamic Republic.

As it turns out, Dr Khan has a long history of cooperation with the Iranians. In 1986 he travelled to Tehran where he was largely responsible for promoting the signing of a treaty of Nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and Iran. However, Iran's nuclear program was all but destroyed by attacks during the Iran-Iraq war, which ended only in 1988. The coming of the Taliban in Afghanistan also meant that Iran and Pakistan relations subsequently soured due to competition for influence in that country. As such, the nuclear cooperation between these powers also fell away.

More recently the US administration has accused Dr Khan of selling his expertise to the North Koreans who are busy trying to restart their own nuclear program. It is believed that Dr Khan visited North Korea as many as thirteen times in recent years. Moreover the US claims to have intelligence of an unannounced Pakistani military delegation to North Korea, perhaps attached to the exchange of missile and nuclear technology between the two countries. The theory goes that the expertise of Dr Khan in matters nuclear was traded for the missile expertise of the North Koreans. In fact, the Ghauri I missile of Pakistan is a modified version of the North Korean Nodong missile of which Dr Khan was able to secure between ten and twelve samples in 1992 (Dr Khan also led Pakistan's medium range missile program). Involvement in the North Korean program led the US to slap sanctions on the Khan Research Laboratories in May. This has followed massive US pressure in past years on General Musharaf to remove Dr Khan from his official capacity at the head of the Pakistani nuclear program, a demand conceded by the General two years ago. This move simply served to make Khan an independent player, no longer under strict government direction. In fact, the recent complaints of the US show that some of the North Korean program was aided by Khan in a freelance capacity.

It has sometimes been claimed in Dr Khan's defence that his expertise lay in the area of uranium enrichment rather than the reprocessing that the North Koreans have restarted. Although this is a very weak defence it brings us to the current case of Iran. In 1995, led by Boris Yeltsin, the Russians signed the Bushehr Protocol with Iran, thus agreeing to aid in the building of the Iranian civilian nuclear program. Later in the same year the US secured an agreement with Yeltsin to abandon the element of the deal with Iran, which was to see the Russians build a centrifugal enrichment plant, originally guaranteed in the Bushehr Protocol. It was wisely thought that the construction of an enrichment facility would rapidly advance the military nuclear ambitions of Iran. It is now becoming apparent that Iran has sidestepped this problem.

While there still remains a certain competition for influence in Afghanistan between Pakistan and Iran today, most would concede that relations have warmed, since the recent intervention of the US in Afghanistan. Indeed Iran's foreign Minister, Kamal Kharazai announced in 2001 that "Differences [between Iran and Pakistan] are now over." Whilst perhaps a little exaggerated, the claim is indicative of growing ties between the two, ties perhaps allowing a certain renewed freedom to Dr Khan's earlier ambitions of Iran-Pakistani nuclear cooperation. While nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and Iran is highly unlikely to be given any official endorsement, it remains a possibility that Pakistan has loosened the US-imposed leash on (a now freelance) Dr Khan.

With the announcement by the IAEA of their suspicions that Iran has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program through the development of a uranium enrichment facility, the spotlight must fall again on Dr Khan as a likely candidate for the provision of the necessary expertise. Here we have a brilliant scientist with expertise in uranium enrichment, a shadowy history, which includes offering aid to anti-Western regimes and a history of cooperation with the Iranians. The strong possibility that Dr Khan has renewed his ties with the Iranians and aided the nuclear ambitions of yet another anti-western government should perhaps now be taken seriously.

References and links

"Pakistan's nuclear father, master spy", MSNBC, October 24, 2003
"Kahuta - Pakistan Special Weapons Facilities", Federation of American Scientists
"A Tale of Nuclear Proliferation: How Pakistani Built His Network"

"U.S. Aides See Troubling Trend In China-Pakistan Nuclear Ties; Program's History Could Be Factor as Sanctions Are Weighed", Washington Post, April 1, 1996
"Scientist's remarks raise doubts on Pakistan's n-plan", The Hindu, Madras, July 27, 1996
"North Korea Got A Little Help From Neighbors --- Secret Nuclear Program Tapped Russian Suppliers And Pakistani Know-How", Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2002
"Iraq may have had offer from Pakistani", Associated Press, December 22, 2002
"Inquiry Suggests Pakistanis Sold Nuclear Secrets", New York Times, December 22, 2003
"Pakistan Might Charge Creator Of Nuclear Bomb; Prosecutors Say Scientists Sold Nuclear Secrets to Iran And Others in Late 1980s", Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2004
"Pakistan's nuclear hero, world's No. 1 nuclear suspect ; Revered as the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan has confessed to sharing weapons secrets with regimes around the world", Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 2004

Abdul Qadeer Khan
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Abdul Qadeer Khan (born 1935) is a Pakistani engineer widely regarded as the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme. (His middle name is also occasionally rendered as Quadeer, Qadir or Gadeer and his given names are often abbreviated to AQ). He has recently confessed to having been involved in an international network of clandestine nuclear proliferation from Pakistan to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

Dr. Khan's face is often reproduced on patriotic posters and signs.
Table of contents [showhide]
1 Early career

2 Development of nuclear weapons

3 Investigations into nuclear proliferation

4 Khan and the Iranian nuclear programme

5 References and links

Early career
Born in 1935 into a middle-class Muslim family in Bhopal, India, Khan migrated to Pakistan in 1952 following the country's partition from India five years earlier. He trained as an engineer at the University of Karachi before moving after graduation to West Germany and Belgium for further studies, earning a doctorate from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium in 1972.

That same year, he joined the staff of the Physical Dynamics Research Laboratory, or FDO, in Amsterdam. FDO was a subcontractor for the URENCO uranium enrichment plant at Almelo in the Netherlands, which had been established in 1970 by the United Kingdom, West Germany and the Netherlands to assure a supply of enriched uranium for European nuclear reactors. The URENCO plant used highly classified centrifuge technology to separate fissionable uranium-235 from U-238 by spinning the a mixture of the two isotopes at up to 100,000 revolutions a minute. The technical complexity of this system is the main obstacle to would-be nuclear powers developing their own enrichment facilities.

In May 1974, India tested a nuclear bomb, to the great alarm of Pakistan's government. Around this time, Khan had privileged access to the most secret areas of the URENCO plant as well as to documentation on centrifuge technology. A subsequent investigation by the Dutch authorities found that he had passed highly classified material to a network of Pakistani intelligence agents, although they found no evidence that he was sent to the Netherlands as a spy, nor were they able to determine whether he approached his government or whether it was the other way around. He left the Netherlands suddenly in January 1976 and was put in charge of the Pakistani nuclear programme with the support of then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Development of nuclear weapons
Khan established the Engineering Research Laboratories at Kahuta in July 1976, subsequently renamed as the Dr. A.Q. Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), as the focal point for developing a uranium enrichment capability. KRL also took on many other weapons projects, including the development of the nuclear-capable Ghauri ballistic missiles. KRL occupied a unique role in Pakistani industry, reporting directly to the Prime Minister's office, and having extremely close relations with the military: former prime minister Benazir Bhutto has said that during her term of office, even she was not allowed to visit the facility.

Pakistan very rapidly established its own uranium enrichment capability and was reportedly able to produce highly enriched uranium by 1986. This progress was so rapid that international suspicion was raised as to whether it had had outside assistance. It was reported that Chinese technicians had been at the facility in the early 1980s, but suspicions soon fell on Khan's activities at URENCO. In 1983, he was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison by an Amsterdam court for attempted espionage, although the sentence was later overturned on appeal on a legal technicality. Khan rejected any suggestion that Pakistan had illicitly acquired nuclear expertise: "All the research work [at Kahuta] was the result of our innovation and struggle," he told a group of Pakistani librarians in 1990. "We did not receive any technical know-how from abroad, but we can't reject the use of books, magazines and research papers in this connection."

In 1987, a British newspaper reported that Khan had openly confirmed Pakistan's acquisition of a nuclear capability. He was quoted as confirming that American intelligence reports "about our possessing the bomb is correct and so is speculation of some foreign newspapers" and criticised Pakistan's detractors, who had "told the U.S. that Pakistan could never produce the bomb and they now know we have done it." Khan's statement was subsequently disavowed by the Pakistani government and Khan himself initially denied giving it, although he later retracted his denial. The Pakistani newspaper The Dawn reported in October 1991 that Khan repeated his claim at a dinner meeting of businessmen and industrialists in Karachi, which "sent a wave of jubilation" through the audience.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Western governments became increasingly convinced that covert nuclear and ballistic missile collaboration was taking place between China, Pakistan and North Korea. According to the Washington Post, "U.S. intelligence operatives secretly rifled [Khan's] luggage ... during an overseas trip in the early 1980s to find the first concrete evidence of Chinese collaboration with Pakistan's bomb effort: a drawing of a crude, but highly reliable, Hiroshima-sized weapon that must have come directly from Beijing, according to U.S. officials." The activities of the Khan Research Laboratories led to the United States terminating economic and military aid to Pakistan in October 1990, following which the Pakistani government agreed to a freeze in the nuclear programme. According to the Federation of American Scientists, this came into force in 1991. However, Khan later claimed in a July 1996 interview with the weekly Friday Times that "at no stage was the programme (of producing weapons-grade enriched uranium) ever stopped" [1].

The American clampdown may have prompted an increasing reliance on Chinese and North Korean nuclear and missile expertise. In 1995, the U.S. learned that the Khan Research Laboratories had bought 5,000 specialized magnets from a Chinese government-owned company, for use in uranium enrichment equipment. More worryingly, it was reported that Pakistani nuclear technology was being exported to other aspirant nuclear states, notably North Korea. In May 1998, Newsweek magazine published an article alleging that Khan had offered to sell nuclear know-how to Iraq, an allegation that he denied. A few weeks later, both India and Pakistan conducted nuclear tests that finally confirmed both countries' development of atomic weapons. The event was greeted with jubilation in both countries and Khan was feted as a national hero. President Rafiq Tarrar awarded him a gold medal for his role in masterminding the Pakistani nuclear programme. The United States immediately imposed sanctions on both India and Pakistan and publicly blamed China for assisting the Pakistanis.
Investigations into nuclear proliferation
Khan's open promotion of Pakistan's nuclear and missile capabilities became something of an embarrassment to Pakistan's government. The United States government became increasingly convinced that Pakistan was trading nuclear technology to North Korea in exchange for ballistic missile technology. In the face of strong American criticism, the Pakistani government announced in March 2001 that Khan was to be dismissed from his post as chairman of KRL, a move that drew strong criticism from the religious and nationalist opposition to President Pervez Musharraf. Perhaps in response to this, the government instead appointed Khan to the post of special science and technology adviser to President Musharraf, with ministerial rank. While this could be presented as a promotion for Khan, it removed him from hands-on management of KRL and gave the government an opportunity to keep a closer eye on his activities.

Khan came under renewed scrutiny following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan to oust the fundamentalist Taliban regime. It emerged that al-Qaeda had made repeated efforts to obtain nuclear materials to build either a radiological bomb or a crude nuclear bomb. In late October 2001, the Pakistani government arrested three Pakistani nuclear scientists, all with close ties to Khan, for their suspected connections with the Taliban. Two of the scientists were subsequently said to have admitted having had talks with Osama bin Laden.

The Bush administration continued to investigate Pakistani nuclear proliferation, ratcheting up the pressure on the Pakistani government in 2001 and 2002 and focusing on Khan's personal role. In 2002, the Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed "senior Pakistani officials" as conceding that Khan's dismissal from KRL had been prompted by U.S. suspicions of his involvement in weapons technology transfers with North Korea. It was alleged in December 2002 that U.N. intelligence officials had found evidence that an unidentified agent supposedly acting on Khan's behalf had offered nuclear expertise to Iraq in mid-1990, though Khan strongly denied this allegation and the Pakistani government declared the evidence "fraudulent". The United States responded by imposing sanctions on KRL, citing concerns about missile technology transfers.
Khan and the Iranian nuclear programme
In August 2003, reports emerged of dealings with Iran; it was claimed that Khan had offered to sell nuclear technology as long ago as 1989. The Iranian government came under intense pressure from the United States and European Union to make a full disclosure of its nuclear programme and finally agreed in October 2003 to accept tougher investigations from the International Atomic Energy Authority. The IAEA reported that Iran had established a large uranium enrichment facility using centrifuges based on the stolen URENCO designs, which had been obtained "from a foreign intermediary in 1987." The intermediary was not named but many diplomats and analysts pointed to Pakistan and specifically to Khan, who was said to have visited Iran in 1986. The Iranians turned over the names of their suppliers and international inspectors quickly identified the Iranian centrifuges as Pak-1s, the model developed by Khan in the early 1980s. Two senior staff at the Khan Research Laboratories were subsequently arrested in December 2003 on suspicion of having sold nuclear technology to the Iranians.

That same month, on December 19, Libya made a surprise announcement that it had weapons of mass destruction programmes which it would now abandon. Libyan government officials were quoted as saying that Libya had bought nuclear components from various black market dealers, including Pakistani scientists. In particular, American officials who visited the Libyan uranium plants shortly afterwards reported that the centrifuges used there were very similar to the Iranian ones.

The Pakistani government's blanket denials became untenable as evidence mounted of illicit technology transfers. It opened an investigation into Khan's activities, arguing that even if there had been wrongdoing, it had occurred without government knowledge or approval. Although he was not arrested, Khan was summoned for "debriefing". On January 25, 2004 the investigators reported that Khan and Mohammed Farooq, a high-ranking manager at KRL, had provided unauthorised technical assistance - allegedly in exchange for tens of millions of dollars - to Iran's nuclear-weapons program in the late 1980s and early 1990s. General Mirza Aslam Beg, a former chief of army staff at the time, was also said to have been implicated; the Wall Street Journal quoted government officials as saying that Khan had told investigators that nuclear technology transfers to Iran had been authorised by General Beg. On January 31, Khan was sacked from his post as the presidential science adviser, ostensibly to "allow a fair investigation" of the nuclear proliferation scandal.

It remains to be seen whether Khan, Farooq and Beg will face any charges. Khan remains an extremely popular figure in Pakistan. He is known as an outspoken nationalist and for his belief that the West is inherently hostile to Islam; in Pakistan's strongly anti-American climate, tough action against him poses political risks for President Musharraf, who already faces accusations of being too pro-American. An additional complicating factor is that few believe that Khan acted alone and the affair risks gravely damaging the Pakistani army, which controlled the nuclear programme and of which Musharraf is still the commander-in-chief. The same investigation also exposed South African businessman Asher Karni as having sold nuclear devices to Khan's associates. Karni is currently in US prison, awaiting trial

AFP[ MONDAY, FEBRUARY 02, 2004 10:01:48 AM ]

A Q Khan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's nuclear pioneer Abdul Qadeer Khan and four others have confessed to leaking nuclear secrets to groups working for Iran, Libya and North Korea, an official close to the government's nuclear proliferation probe said late on Sunday.

The information was leaked between 1986 and 1993, he added.

It was the first time North Korea had been named in the government's investigation.

The official said an 11-page report carrying the confessions has been submitted to President General Pervez Musharraf.

Asked if there will be criminal proceedings against those who have confessed he said: "It is up to the National Command Authority of which the President Pervez Musharraf is the chairman, to take a decision."

It was not yet clear whether Khan had admitted to giving centrifuge designs for uranium enrichment to Iran and Libya, he said.

Another government official said Musharraf may address the nation soon after the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha begins on Monday.

Dr. Abdul Qadeer

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, accused in the West of nuclear espionage, is Pakistan's nuclear hero as architect of the country's newly-declared nuclear prowess.

He is the brains behind what has been a mysterious and controversial nuclear programme whose latest products are five bombs tested on Thursday and at least one on Saturday - in response to five exploded by arch-rival India this month.

He is also the father of Pakistan's medium-range Ghauri missile, test-fired last month and which is said by officials to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting most Indian cities.

A scion of a modest family from India's Bhopal state, who loves poetry, flowers, and animals, he is caught in the subcontinent's current nuclear standoff that has rung alarm bells across the globe.

Khan, 62, migrated to Pakistan in 1952, following millions of other Muslims who came here from India at the subcontinent's partition at independence from Britain in 1947.

After initial graduation in the port city of Karachi, he went to Europe in 1952 for further studies and subsequent work that was later to become the basis of his trial and conviction in the Netherlands on espionage charges.

Former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto urged Khan to return home in 1976 to be given the job to organise Pakistan's nuclear programme that could give an answer to India's first nuclear explosion of 1974.

"It was,...to be precise, on July 31, 1976, when the first seeds, real seeds of Pakistan's nuclear programme were sown," Khan recalled in one of his newspaper articles.

"The date marks the turn in our beloved country's destiny as it was on this fateful day that under the banner of 'Engineering Research Laboratories', an autonomous organisation was formed under the orders of the late prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto....

" The aim of the secret laboratories, set up at Kahuta, near Islamabad, was to "establish a uranium enrichment plant and provide Pakistan with nuclear capability", he wrote.

"In a record short span of six years, Pakistan was put on the nuclear map of the world and a solid foundation was laid for our self-sufficiency in future of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy."

Before returning home, Khan worked at the British/German/Dutch Urenco uranium enrichment facility in the Netherlands in the early 1970s.

After his return, a Dutch security enquiry revealed he had probably taken with him most of the facility's secrets and a list of its contractors.

He was also named in numerous other Western inquiries and media reports about secret purchasing operations for components for Pakistan's uranium enrichment plant.

Khan acknowledges he did take advantage of his experience of many years of working on similar projects in Europe and his contacts there with various manufacturing firms, but denies engaging in nuclear espionage for which a court in Amsterdam sentenced him in absentia in 1983 to four years in jail.

An appeals court two years later upheld his appeal against the conviction and quashed the sentence on the summons for the trial had not reached him.

The prosecution had the option to renew the charges and issue fresh summons for a trial, but the Dutch government decided against pursuing the case any further, and Khan later said he saw it as an admission that there was no substance in the case.

"The information I had asked for was ordinary technical information available in published literature for many decades," Khan said in a speech afterwards about his two letters to his contacts that became the basis for his prosecution.

"I had requested for it as we had no library of our own at that time."

"Once the Western propaganda reached its climax and all efforts were made to stop or block even the most harmless items, we said enough was enough and decided indigenous production of all the sophisticated electronic, electric and vacuum equipment," he wrote in an article.

"Kahuta is an all-Pakistani effort and is a symbol of a poor and developing country's determination and defiance to submitting to blackmail and bullying."

The past few weeks have been Khan's moments of great triumph. The test-firing of his 1,500-km (937-mile) range Ghauri missile last month was greeted with banners urging him to do more to counter what his fans saw as an Indian threat to Pakistan.

And he became the focus of attention after India exploded three nuclear devices on May 11 and two more on May 13, to which Pakistan promised to give an "appropriate answer".

That answer was five Pakistani nuclear blasts on Thursday and at least one on Saturday - a move that spurred jubilation at home and condemnation abroad, coupled with sanctions.

Khan scoffs at sanctions which he says will not do much harm to the country.

"Ninety-nine percent people eat bread with onions and they won't be affected," he said in a newspaper interview published on Saturday.

"And the remaining five percent have so much at home and abroad that it will make no difference to them. The middle class will suffer some pressure and they will also adjust."

Abdul Qadeer Khan confesses all


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