Think tank: Iran has built its own nuclear black market

All kinds of good news here. They’ve replaced A.Q. Khan’s nuclear trafficking network with one of their own, and may even have exceeded it in size; they’re hitting up Khan’s old contacts for parts as well as reaching out to new providers; and they may be maneuvering to take a handoff from North Korea if and when that country goes ahead with the plan to dismantle its own nuclear facilities. One of the reasons skeptics cite for doubting Iran’s nuke capacity is the possibility that they may not know how to manufacture their own parts. As proliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis put it:

There is no evidence that Iran can mass produce the components of 3,000 centrifuges. The Iranians can claim mass production, but I want to see the evidence that Iran can mass produce ball bearings and maraging steel bellows for the P1. Diplomats have been saying Iran imported enough components for about 1,000 to 2,000 centrifuges. So, my guess is that Iran can make today’s announcement with what they bought from AQ Khan; they may run into problems when they try to push past that number.

Or, if this report is right, they may not.

The report, by the way, comes from the International Institute of Strategic Studies, which has been famous pessimistic and occasionally dire about the prospect of stopping Iran’s quest for the bomb. The most disquieting part of their analysis, as described by Time:

Most ominously, the IISS report suggests that other nations, or even non-state actors such as al-Qaeda, could have received copies of a nuclear-weapon design that the Khan network is known to have peddled to Libya… According to the IISS report, “the bomb designs were apparently digitalised and copied onto computer disks at one of Khan’s offices in Dubai. One of the Swiss members of the network admitted to having atomic bomb construction plans in his own office. Swiss and American authorities, as well as the IAEA, have been trying to discover what other use may have been made of these bomb designs, including the alarming scenario of whether any copies were sold to terrorist groups.”

IISS also says the United Arab Emirates is likely to be a hub of the Iranian network, just as it was the hub of the Khan network, thanks to that country’s lax export controls. Hmmm.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on March 31, 2023