The arrival of a UN nuclear watchdog inspector in Tehran last weekend to quiz Iran on its Green Salt Project went mostly unnoticed amid the clamor of the Tehran-Moscow on-and-off talks on a uranium enrichment venture in Russia.
Green Salt is uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), which is a midpoint state in the process of converting uranium ore into the UF6 uranium fuel used in nuclear power stations or, when further enriched, as weapons-grade uranium.
It is a stage in the fuel cycle which Iran has concealed until now.
US intelligence has linked this concealment to high explosives and the warhead design, which was first revealed in the International Atomic Energy Agency report laid before the last agency board meeting in Vienna. That report voiced concern that the Green Salt Project, as a precursor to enrichment, was connected to suspected tests of “high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle, all of which could have a military nuclear dimension.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources disclose that the IAEA emissary returned from Tehran empty-handed.
The Iranians stood by their past refusal to talk about their Green Salt Project except to deny they are engaged in – or have any plants capable of – conducting the suspect process. They ridiculed American accusations by arguing that the cost of investing in a Green Salt Project would be prohibitive and completely disproportionate to the price of purchasing technology available on international markets.
Their arguments were in fact a repeat of assertions mentioned in the January 31, 2006 Update Brief that IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei prepared for the Security Council in lieu of a full report.
He confirmed that the Iranians were in fact continuing their long runaround.
On December 5, 2005, the nuclear watchdog requested a meeting – and not for the first time – to discuss information obtained of undeclared activities known as the Green Salt Project as well as tests relating to high explosives and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle. All of these items have potential military nuclear applications and “administrative interconnections.”
On December 16, 2005, Iran shot back with a denial of the “issues related to baseless allegations.”
Iran finally agreed on January 23, 2006, to a meeting with the Deputy Director-General for Safeguards (DDF-SG) to clarify the Green Salt Project, but declined to address other topics.
In the course of the meeting, which took place on January 27, 2006, the IAEA presented Iran a copy of a process flow diagram relating to bench scale conversion and communications related to the project. Iranian officials stressed that all national nuclear projects were conducted by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, that the allegations were baseless and it would provide further clarifications later.
None of these assertions have stilled the suspicions in Washington, Vienna and Jerusalem that Iran has already converted tonnes of uranium, using a method that watchdog officials believe differs from the method used in the Green Salt Project.
In other words, like other clandestine parts of its nuclear program, Tehran has typically set up one or more alternative processing tracks as backups, so that if one is discovered and halted, a parallel process for weaponizing its program can be switched on.