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October 10, 2008

IAEA Alleges Russian Scientist Advised Iranian Weapon Design

Reports surfaced this week that the IAEA is investigating a Russian scientist who possibly assisted in complex detonator trials in conjunction with Iran’s alleged secret nuclear weapons program.  These detonators are an integral component to a nuclear weapon as they provide the force that ignites the bomb fuel thus starting the explosive nuclear reaction.
The scientist was named in a new document that was provided by  European and American officials.  It is unknown if this document originated from the stolen Iranian laptop that came into American hands by way of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
This is the first time the IAEA has suggested that Iran received help from a foreign weapons scientist in developing nuclear arms.  Russia’s scientists forged ties with Iran through civilian nuclear assistance, though both Russia and Iran maintain that no work on a nuclear weapons program has been done.  Russia says it opposes any effort by Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA made it clear that it did not think the scientist was working on behalf of the Russian government, nor was the scientist affiliated with the civilian electric power plant that is being built at the Iranian port of Bushehr.  It is believed that he acted on his own, advising the detonator experiments.
This development underscores the need for robust verification mechanisms for Iran’s nuclear program, to prevent rogue elements like this scientist from pursuing weapons technologies.  A system for comprehensive multilateral inspections and transparent dialogue is crucial at this point in time.
Iran’s efforts to produce enriched uranium and related nuclear activities should be conducted on a multilateral basis, jointly managed and operated on Iranian soil by a consortium including Iran and the international community. Turning Iran’s sensitive nuclear activities into a multinational program will enable the international community to have closer monitoring and inspections as well as joint management and operation of the program. Inspections plus transparency will, in the long run, ease any tensions over possible weapons programs.
These ideas are introduced in the proposal put forth by Thomas Pickering, former Under Secretary of State and U.N. Ambassador, the Pickering plan addresses these ideas.  Under the plan, increased oversight and transparency would ensure that rogue scientists like this Russian engineer would not be able to work on a nuclear weapons program without being detected.

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