"It is not a sign of impertinence to wonder out loud what it is precisely that Mr. Ahmadinejad is up to...”
It was reported recently that Iran had finished a project to install 1,312 centrifuges for enriching uranium. This milestone was reached thanks to a 2001 secret pilot program that was reinitiated in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty imposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which required Iran to immediately suspend any enrichment related activities.
Conservative estimates by some analysts slated completion of this project around the year 2010, thus reaching this goal at an earlier than expected date prompted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to proudly announce that his country had attained an “industrial level” of uranium enrichment. But what concerns the world community more than this innocuous declaration are his unnerving allusions in times past that Iran has a god given right to develop nuclear weapons capabilities. So it is not a sign of impertinence to wonder out loud what it is precisely that Mr. Ahmadinejad is up to.
To get an idea of how president Ahmadinejad got to where he is, and most importantly, where he is likely to be heading, it is rather illuminating when one retraces the steps of the top nuclear scientist from one of Iran’s neighboring countries and the man most responsible for equipping Pakistan with the nuclear Bomb: Abdul Qadeer Khan.
A.Q. Khan was born in Bhopal, India in 1935. At the age of 17 he migrated with his family to Pakistan where he graduated from the University of Karachi and later moved to Germany where he landed a job at an uranium enrichment plant run the British-Dutch-German consortium URENCO, where he was employed from May 1972 to December1975 in the Physics Dynamic Research Laboratory, an engineering firm based in Amsterdam that specialized in the manufacture of nuclear equipment. He then returned to Pakistan and was accused of stealing highly classified proprietary nuclear weapons technology from his employer, for which he was charged with attempted nuclear espionage and sentenced in absentia to four years in prison by an Amsterdam court in 1983, a sentence that was later overturned on appeal on a legal technicality. In July 1976 he established the Engineering Research Laboratories at Kahuta, Rawalpindi, in Pakistan.
Under the veneer of status as a reputable nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan ran a very lucrative network in the black market for several years, during which he managed to sell nuclear technology components to countries like China, Libya, Iran and North Korea. In 2003 the IAEA reported that Iran had established a large uranium enrichment facility using gas centrifuge prototypes based on the illicitly acquired URENCO designs. This technology was proffered through Dr. Khan’s network, presumably under the auspices of the Pakistani government, which denied any prior knowledge of Khan’s “clandestine” operations. Today Dr. Khan is viewed as a national hero in Pakistan.
Not unlike president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Dr. Khan insisted that the nuclear program he ran for 25 years was solely for peaceful purposes, until May 1998 when Pakistan conducted its first nuclear tests with the Chagai-I, and Khan admitted that he “… Never had any doubts I was building a bomb. We had to do it.”
A.Q. Khan’s circle of friends has never been fully appraised, but to the extent that the CIA and other global investigative authorities can ascertain, he was able to establish solid contacts in Europe, Asia and Africa for his wholesale marketing of nuclear weapon components and periodically offered assistance in the design and fabrication of nuclear weapons to countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Syria. In 2001, the Pakistani government arrested three Pakistani nuclear scientists with suspected connections to the Taliban, all of whom had close ties to Dr. A.Q. Khan.
The motivation for A.Q. Khan’s entrepreneurial drive to illegally sell nuclear technology to rogue countries, second only to his own personal financial prosperity, was the notion that possession of nuclear weapons would help “return Islam to greatness”. It is safe to assume, given President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements of late, that there are eerily similar impulses running through his veins.
But then again he could just be harnessing nuclear power so that his people may benefit from lower electricity bills. The question is, how many world leaders, especially those living in close proximity, are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after he has repeatedly prophesied that the US and Israel will soon be brought to destruction. A.Q. Khan could very well provide critical information as to how that question should be answered.
To wit the biggest fear that assails many U.S. intelligence officials is the distinct possibility that A.Q. Khan may have shared what some have called his “Nuclear Weapon Starter Kit” with other outlaw regimes and terrorist groups. As it is they are unable to fully confirm the validity of this very plausible claim, since Dr. Khan is confined to house arrest in Pakistan as his health deteriorates, and is prohibited from giving any interviews to foreign media sources without approval from the Pakistani government; thus it is very likely that Dr. Khan will have to carry some of these very important secrets to his grave, and may after all escape the inherent horrors of the world he zealously helped to create.