Iran Gets China's Help on Nuclear Arms: U.S. Report Indicates Technicians Will Visit Tehran to Work on Uranium Plant

Article excerpt

Chinese nuclear technicians are expected to arrive in Iran this week to begin building a new uranium plant that will help Tehran's nuclear-weapons program, according to a secret U.S. intelligence report.

With the visit of the Chinese delegation, scheduled to arrive in Iran tomorrow, Beijing and Tehran "may now be prepared to construct the facilities," said the report, which was obtained by The Washington Times.

"The plant will produce uranium products that Iran can use to make fissile material for nuclear weapons," the report said. "The United States has repeatedly encouraged China not to move forward with this project because of its potential contribution to Iran's weapons program."

The plant, to be built near Esfahan in central Iran, will convert milled uranium ore into gas that could be used for weapons fuel, and the deal has been under intense negotiation between China and Iran for more than five years, according to the report.

The disclosure of China's help in building a new uranium facility in Iran comes only days before Secretary of State Warren Christopher is scheduled to meet with his Chinese counterpart to discuss Beijing's sale of nuclear-weapons-related technology to Pakistan.

In The Hague, Mr. Christopher will talk to Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen about China's sale of ring magnets to Pakistan last year. The administration is considering sanctions against China because of the sale. The magnets are used in centrifuges that enrich uranium gas.

Unlike the Pakistan deal, the Iranian facility will be under international inspection, according to U.S. officials. But periodic inspections cannot ensure a plant isn't converted to another use later.

Nuclear experts say the facility will allow Iran to make a crucial step forward in building nuclear weapons. The Chinese plant will produce uranium hexafluoride, a gas that can be enriched to produce fuel for nuclear bombs.

"If this facility is built, it will be a critical link in the chain of plants Iran needs to make nuclear weapons," said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. Mr. Milhollin said the Chinese government appears to be "out of control" as a proliferator of nuclear weapons technology.

The Chinese nuclear technicians were described as an advance team that will begin the detailed design phase for several facilities. In March, a team of Iranian nuclear specialists visited China to study technical documents for the new Iranian facilities.

A U.S. intelligence official said construction of the uranium-conversion plant appears to be moving forward after years of "long-term discussions" between Beijing and Tehran.

The official said that both China and Iran have notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of the plans to build the facility and that IAEA safeguards would be applied to the uranium products. …