Leaked intelligence says Iran developing nuclear weapon

Secret document shows Iran working on key nuclear bomb component. Car bomb kills eight near Kabul hotel. Japan postpones decision on US Okinawa base. Sri Lanka general denies surrendered Tamil rebels shot. All this and much more in today’s security update.
Dries Belet
15 December 2009

A confidential Iranian memo, which was acquired by The Times, suggests that Iranian scientists were working on nuclear bomb components in 2007. The Times says the obtained notes were written by the head of Iran’s covert nuclear programme. They give a detailed description of a four-year plan to test a ‘neutron initiator’, the part of a nuclear weapon that triggers the chain reaction leading to the actual explosion of a bomb. The report mentions the use of uranium deuteride (‘UD3’), which experts say has no other use than in nuclear weapons. UD3 is the substance that is used in Pakistan’s nuclear weapon, whence Iran got the blueprints for its own programme.

Governments or intelligence services have not yet confirmed the report, but the UN’s nuclear agency has judged it “consistent and compelling”. Diplomats have already commented that the document is another piece of evidence pointing towards Iran’s intentions. Tehran responded by claiming the report was fabricated and dismissed it as the work of foreign intelligence services “seeking to destabilize the Islamic republic”.

The openSecurity verdict: Until now, Iran has always maintained that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only. Iran, which is the world’s fourth biggest producer of oil and the fifth of natural gas, claims it wants civilian nuclear power in order to export more of its energy resources.

In 2007, the US National Intelligence Estimate concluded that it was “reasonably sure” Iran had suspended its weapons programme in 2003 and had not yet resumed it by mid-2007. However, other countries such as Britain, France, Germany, and Israel did not believe that Iran had ceased to design of nuclear weapons. The report leaked yesterday seems to contradict Tehran’s strenuous denials of working on a nuclear weapon.

The revelations come as the US and European governments mount pressure on Russia and China to support tougher UN sanctions on the Iranian regime and revolutionary guard. If it is genuine, the Iranian document could help with these efforts, because Moscow and Beijing will feel less inclined to continue dragging their feet over multilateral sanctions if clear evidence about a nuclear weapons programme exists.

However, since the report seems to affirm the Iranian leadership’s determination to develop a nuclear bomb, questions can be raised as to whether any kind of economic sanctions will really be effective in reversing Tehran’s plans. The effect of sanctions on Iran's internal political situation must also be duly considered. With Iran's nuclear programme already marketed in strongly nationalist terms, sanctions could reduce domestic pressure on the regime and be used to justify coercive measures to enforce solidarity.

Car bomb kills eight near Kabul hotel

At least eight people were killed by a suicide attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Tuesday. The vehicle driver detonated his bomb about thirty metres from a hotel filled with foreigners, in the city's diplomatic neighbourhood. Forty more people were wounded, according to an official from the ministry of the interior.

The explosion took place close to the home of former vice-president Ahmed Zia Massoud, who is thought to have been the target. Massoud’s brother, the Tajik guerrilla hero Ahmad Shah Massoud, was killed by Al Qaeda in 2001. Speaking at an anti-corruption conference, president Hamid Karzai confirmed that two of Massoud’s bodyguards were killed in the explosion. Karzai condemned the attack as “brutal, inhuman, and un-Islamic”, and ordered an investigation to track down those responsible.

Japan postpones decision on US Okinawa base

Yukio Hatoyama, Japan’s prime minister, has delayed until next year a controversial decision to relocate a US military base. The retardation does not bode well for the new Hatoyama administration’s relations with the US. The move of the base to a new location on the island of Okinawa is a source of US-Japan diplomatic tensions, and officials in Washington have stated concerns about the Japan’s shifting security strategy.

The Japanese government decided to set up a consultative body, composed of representatives from the three government parties, to look into the matter. Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported that a decision has been deferred until May next year. However, according to the Mainichi Daily News, this deadline encountered stiff resistance from coalition partner the Social Democratic Party (SPD). With the cabinet openly split over the issue, varying options remain open for the future of the base. The scheduled relocation was part of a wider agreement between the previous governments in the US and Japan to review the presence of 47,000 American troops.

Sri Lanka general denies surrendered Tamil rebels shot

General Sarath Fonseka denied that he said government soldiers shot Tiger rebels who had surrendered, stating that no such incidents took place and that his earlier remarks were taken out of context. The Sri Lankan government had previously denounced the reported comments of the general, saying “he betrayed the nation” with his allegations. The government has accused Fonseka, who is the opposition candidate for the January presidential elections, of manoeuvring for political advantage.

On Tuesday, Sri Lanka was also the subject of criticism in a report by Transparency International, a global watchdog. It reprimanded the government for a lack of democracy, accountability and transparency, citing problems of corruption and violence. The report warned of a difficult recovery from the long civil war, saying, "the latter half of 2009 marks a period of hope and potential for Sri Lanka. Yet, winning the war seems to have been easier than winning the peace”.

Baghdad security breached by bombs again

Car bombs on three different sites in Baghdad killed four people and wounded fourteen on Tuesday morning. According to the Iraqi police, the vehicles exploded within minutes of each other, and were stationed close to official buildings in the centre of the capital, such as the foreign and immigration ministries. The attacks, which occurred near the heavily fortified ‘green zone’, represent the fourth wave of coordinated city centre bombings in four months, raising questions about the adequacy of Iraq’s security forces. Last week, a series of coordinated attacks killed 112 people in Baghdad.

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