Iran’s Isfahan Tunnel Is Hive of Banned Nuclear Activity

Washington’s diplomatic track looks like petering out not only with Syria but Iran as well. Bush officials were only trying to prove a point when they seemed to go along with Europe’s plan to tempt Iran into abandoning uranium enrichment with rich incentives.

The next step up the penalty ladder is UN sanctions for what Jackie Sanders, US delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency board, called Wednesday, March 2, Iran’s “cynical” manipulation of the Nonproliferation Treaty in the pursuit of nuclear weapons, clandestine activities at undeclared locations and willful deceit of the world.

She said it was the UN watchdog’s statutory duty to refer the case to the UN Security Council.

As American patience ran out, more Iranian violations came to light strengthening Washington’s determination to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

Iran itself banged the last nails into the European diplomatic coffin when foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi declared it was Iran’s inalienable right to seek technology for the production of nuclear fuel and it cannot be waived for economic or other incentives.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian experts report:

US officials have seen top-secret evidence that Iran is continuing uranium enrichment in clandestine sites undisclosed to the International Atomic Energy Agency. They therefore have a smoking gun to put before the UN Security Council in the coming months with the whole sorry mess so that economic sanctions can be clamped on the Islamic Republic.

Our Iranian sources believe Iran deliberately failed the diplomacy test because Europe has nothing to offer to dissuade Iran from plowing ahead with uranium enrichment for its nuclear program.


No European candy wanted


Expediency Council chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told confidants at a closed meeting Wednesday: “They think we are children who can be tempted with candy. They want to strip us of our nuclear knowledge and give us a ‘prize’ such as membership in the World Trade Organization or an Airbus passenger jet.”

Aleksandr Rumyantsev, head of the Russian Federal Agency for Atomic Energy (Rosatom), tried to knock some dollars and sense into the Iranians. “Russia learned the hard way that building entire plants to produce nuclear fuel or a reactor or two is an economic disaster whose start-up and operational costs eat up money,” Rumyantsev said in a message to Tehran this week.

Iran gave its reply a day later. Hawkish legislators declared that Iran intends to build 20 nuclear reactors to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity. The figures were way above a projection of seven reactors producing 7,000 megawatts given only a day earlier by Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. Aghazadeh also announced that an Iranian-Russian technical committee was at work planning the location of Iran’s next reactor.

In Vienna, diplomatic sources disclosed on Thursday, March 3, that this announcement may have been another piece of “willful deceit” because the foundations have already been laid for a second reactor at Arak, south of Tehran.

What worries the regime heads in Tehran, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian experts, is this: Even after Russia signed the contract to supply uranium fuel rods, will the Bushehr reactor really be finished and go on line?

Contradictory statements by Iranian and Russian officials contribute to the confusion.

Aghazadeh has spoken of a 14-month timeframe for completing the reactor; Rohani cites 18 months. The Russians have not mentioned a date. Visiting Bushehr this week to sign the supply contracts, Rumyantsev disclosed a series of dangerous technical faults delaying the completion of the reactor. “These faults are not serious and Russian experts can overcome them,” he said.


Used fuel is a “valuable commodity”


But some of the problems are pretty hair-raising. There is the real danger of the reactor blowing up in its first test roughly 10 months away

Rumyantsev listed the problems as follows: the mismatching of parts produced in different former Soviet republics is holding up the completion of a water cooling system; the reactor’s pressure regulation system is still inoperable, and its fail safe mechanisms do not even meet Russian less than exacting standards.

Rumyantsev promised to send Russian experts out to Bushehr soon to fix the glitches and complete a project that was problematic from the word go: the reactor was planned by the German Siemens consortium according to German technology and then had to be married to Russian technology.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report the main problem – the return of used nuclear fuel rods, a highly fissionable material perfect for the production of a bomb – came up just ahead of the nuclear deal signing between Iran and Russia on Saturday, February 26. At first, Iran refused to make this commitment, but was brought round to a 10-year timeframe by heavy US pressure on Moscow after two years of bargaining.

The Iranians now contend that certain ecological and safety steps are necessary before the waste material can be freighted overland. They are thus leaving themselves with enough fissionable material in hand to build “an emergency bomb”, that can be declared whenever expedient, thereby taking a leaf out of the North Korean performance last month.

As the Iranian newspaper Kayhan wrote in an editorial this week: The used fuel far from being “waste” is a commodity that can prove very valuable.

Both Tehran and the three European powers, Britain, France and Germany, who kept the negotiations afloat, are anxious to keep their impasse and differences out of the public domain. The Europeans think they can talk their way out of crisis while the Iranians will keep them talking and press ahead with their clandestine plans to finish building a bomb.

What they are doing now, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources, is stepping up activities in the tunnels running underneath the Isfahan nuclear facility where raw uranium is being converted into gas for use in uranium enrichment at the Natanz plant. Iran hopes the underground facility will be safe from US bomb attack.


Arming rebel tribes near Iraq border


In addition, the Iranians have built an alternative plant at the sprawling Parchin military base in the suburbs of Tehran to take over from the Natanz facility in an emergency. IAEA inspectors visited Parchin twice and collected soil and air samples. But last week, the UN watchdog discovered Tehran had again pulled the wool over its eyes. The inspectors were taken to an area several kilometers away from the uranium enrichment plant and their samples were naturally clean. Tehran wasted no time in rejecting a demand from IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei for a followup visit.

There is no let-up in the level of Iranian threats against the United States, Israel and anyone else who they fear might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities or other targets in the country.

“Iran will retaliate in a second,” Iranian defense minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani vowed; any military attack on the Islamic Republic would force it to abrogate its nuclear commitments on the instant. Yahy Rahim Safavi, commander of the Revolutionary Guards threatened, “If Israel attacks us, we will not leave a single soul alive in occupied Palestine,” he said. Safavi added that not a single member of the 190,000-strong American contingents in Iraq and Afghanistan would be safe from Iranian attack if US forces struck Iran.

For its part, the United States is pressing ahead with an infrastructure for an Iranian underground opposition. A Revolutionary Guard unit in Hur al-Azim, near the Iraqi border, captured a band smuggling thousands of handguns into Iran. In recent months, thousands of rifles and masses of ammunition have been delivered to Iranian tribes near the Iraqi frontier. These tribes have a long history of rebellion against central government in Tehran and are practiced in guerrilla tactics.

Iran is extremely concerned by the unrest bubbling up in this region and believes Israel is behind it. US intelligence units, operating out of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, continue to carry out reconnaissance missions in Iran.

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