A prime motive behind the Bush administration’s drive to knock out Iran’s military nuclear build-up is its concern about the outreach of the Iranian precedent to Saudi Arabia in the Middle East and to Argentina and Brazil in America’s own back yard.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources report an accumulation of intelligence data indicating that the Argentine and Brazilian presidents Nestor Kirchner and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva are closely eyeing Iran’s progress. Most of all, they are watching every step of its handling by the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA and world governments in general.
The intelligence reports indicate that both presidents are laying high odds on Tehran getting away with developing a nuclear bomb. That being so, the two South American rulers privately see no reason not to resuscitate their own programs, with a view to attaining military nuclear capabilities including a bomb and missile warheads.
Earlier this month, Washington cast a beady eye on Brazil’s activation of a uranium enrichment plant in Resende, 150 km from Rio de Janeiro, to supply most of the fuel for the two big nuclear-powered electricity plants Angra I and Angra II.
Almost half of the Brazilian city’s electricity comes from nuclear reactors. American experts strongly suspect that the Resende plant bought its centrifuge technology from the black market ring run by the father of the Pakistani bomb, Abdel Qadeer Khan. His ring was exposed and smashed in late 2003 and early 2004, with the help of the nuclear equipment and records Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi handed over to the United States. Those records showed the Americans that the first centrifuges obtained by Iran were Pakistani P1 types. They were accompanied – or followed – by manuals and diagrams for constructing the much faster P1 centrifuges.
The Americans now have cause to suspect that Brazil obtained its centrifuge technology from the same source as Iran, even though in 1984, Brazil’s civilian president Jose Sarney decided to dismantle the nuclear weapons program his military predecessors had pursued up to the point of preparing a nuclear weapons testing site.
Enrichment is unstoppable in Brazil
Brazil has the advantage of large reserves of uranium. Its science and technology minister, Sergio Rezende says his country can save $11 million a year by enriching the ore at home, instead of sending it abroad. Brazilian scientists claim to have improved the efficiency of super-centrifuges by 30 percent through a major technical breakthrough.
US scientists are skeptical about this claim..
While Brazil’s 1988 constitution forbids nuclear activity except for peaceful purposes, not all the country’s nuclear activities from the late 1997 appear to be above board. In that year, a Brazilian newspaper Jornal do Brasil reported that the federal government had decided to reactivate an “old army project” for the construction of a gas-graphite reactor capable of producing plutonium for atomic bombs. This plant became known as the Atlantic Project.
In 2002, Lula, then still a presidential hopeful, declared the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty was unfair.
Two years later, he twice refused to let international watchdog inspectors examine one of Brazil’s nuclear facilities, declaring the visits unnecessary because the military nuclear program had been officially terminated. Experts began to suspect that Brazil may have reverted to its old ambition and is hiding a covert nuclear program.
Last week, the nuclear watchdog pronounced itself completely confident that Brazil will not enrich uranium for military purposes. “There are safeguard measures agreed that will meet the agency’s requirements that there will be no diversion of nuclear material,” said Marc Vidricaire, the IAEA spokesman.
Officially, Washington seconded that determination.
In February, the since departed White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: I think there is a difference here,,, if you’re talking about Brazil versus Iran, it is one of trust.”
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources report that, since February, the White House’s general tone on the Brazilian project has altered. The old trust is ebbing regarding the intentions of Brazil as well as Iran. Both are suspected strongly of advancing towards the manufacture of a nuclear weapon.
The Americans have now added Argentina to their list of suspects.
This week, a senior US official said to DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “It is clear that in a situation where Brazil is on the threshold of developing a nuclear weapon, Argentina will not drop behind. Therefore, the nuclear race between the two South American nations of the 1980s is about to revive at full blast.”
Brazil and Argentina thought to have begun a nuclear race
Some quarters in Washington believe the continental nuclear race has already begun.
Like Brazil, Argentina is endowed with uranium deposits. On May 2, the Argentines were reported to have started work in two areas with the most promising uranium potential: the San Jorge Gulf Basin of Chubut Province and Sierra Pintada, in Mendoza Province.
Moreover, scientists, experts and students employed in the Argentine and Brazilian nuclear programs are seen out in force at every world forum which has uranium enrichment and the military applications of nuclear energy on its agenda.
On May 15, the Czech news agency reported that a new international nuclear training center will soon be opened at Straz pod Ralskem in northern Bohemia by the Diamo state enterprise for “experts to learn about methods of uranium mining.”
An operating uranium mine is open in that part of the Czech Republic.
Jan Slezak, head of the new training center, said some 15 experts from China, India, Brazil, Argentina and Kazakhstan, as well as other countries are expected to apply for the course.
Slezak made a point of mentioning that a prime motivating factor behind the new center was this: “Brazil would like its experts to enter the world uranium market after Straz, while Argentina is changing its nuclear program.”
The head of the Czech center fended off questions asking him to elaborate on this statement.
It is therefore no secret in the international nuclear industrial community that Argentina is converting its nuclear program.
Both Latin American countries are openly developing their uranium resources and enhancing their enrichment technologies, avowedly to supply their civilian energy needs. But both are strongly suspected by Washington of secretly reverting to their ambitions to produce the first South American nuclear weapon, encouraged by Iran’s example.
Latin American watchers in the US capital are convinced that at some time, Argentina like Brazil and Iran acquired under-the-counter enrichment technology from the Pakistani black marketeer A.Q. Khan.
Riyadh is believed to be another of the Pakistani’s customers.
Although US intelligence has far less information on Saudi Arabia than on Iran, Brazil and Argentina, it is convinced that the Saudis are not leveling with the Americans about the major part of their nuclear activities.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources say that the Bush administration is clear on one thing: if Tehran is allowed to go into production of nuclear energy for military purposes, Brazil, Argentina and Saudi Arabia will not lag far behind.