Khan the Centrifugist

The LA Times reports that Iran’s nuclear programme is based on uranium enrichment using Urenco’s centrifuge designs.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog agency is investigating potential links between the atomic programs of Iran and Pakistan after discovering that the secret Iranian uranium-enrichment program used technology identical to Pakistani plans, diplomats said.

A diplomat said that the IAEA had not determined whether the centrifuge plans had come directly from Pakistan or were obtained or stolen from a Pakistani nuclear laboratory by the middleman.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, the primary developer of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, worked at the Urenco enrichment plant in the Dutch city of Almelo in the 1970s. After returning to Pakistan, he was accused of stealing centrifuge plans from the facility.

Two former Iranian diplomats told the Los Angeles Times last summer that Khan made several trips to Iran, beginning in 1987, to help with Iran’s nuclear program. One of them, Ali Akbar Omid Mehr, said Khan was given a villa on the Caspian Sea in return for his assistance.

So, Dr Khan’s name has turned up in relation to North Korea (Musharraf says he was there on vacation), Iraq (Musharraf denies this) and Iran (Musharraf says he was there to buy short-range missiles). Hmmm.
It has been suggested that Khan may have been conducting these little nuclear trades on the sly, without the knowledge and blessings of the Pakistan government. That’s hard to swallow. Someone as important as Khan could never have managed to sell as much as a pack of cigarettes without the knowledge, consent or orders of the ISI.
Even if (and its a big “if”) he was a lone agent, that raises disturbing questions on the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and technology. Some of Khan’s people – Basheeruddin Sultan, et al – were found helping the Taliban and bin Laden build bakeries in Kabul. And the US forces found plans for chemical, biological and radiological bombs and distribution system in those very bakeries.
It will be a mistake to let Musharraf, Khan and company off on this one.