Iran seeking to smuggle raw uranium

VIENNA: Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tonnes of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained today by The Associated Press.

Diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Such a deal would be significant because, according to an independent research group, Tehran appears to be running out of the material, which it needs to feed its uranium enrichment programme.

The report was drawn up by a member nation of the International Atomic Energy Agency and provided to the AP on condition that the country not be identified because of the confidential nature of the information.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, “The transfer of any uranium yellowcake ... to Iran would constitute a clear violation of UNSC sanctions.” “We have been engaged with many of our international non-proliferation partners on Iran’s illicit efforts to acquire new supplies of uranium over the past several years,” he said.

A senior US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was talking about confidential information said Washington was aware of the intelligence report, but he declined to discuss specifics.

“We are not going to discuss our private consultations with other governments on such matters but, suffice to say, we have been engaged with Kazakhstan and many of our other international non-proliferation partners on this subject in particular over the past several years,” he told the AP. “We will continue to have those discussions.” In New York, Burkina Faso’s U.N. Ambassador Michel Kafando, a co-chair of the Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee, referred questions Tuesday about a potential deal between Iran and Kazakhstan to his sanctions adviser, Zongo Saidou. Speaking in New York, Saidou told the AP that, as far as he knew, none of the U.N.’s member nations has alerted the committee about any such allegations. “We don’t have any official information yet regarding this kind of exchange between the two countries,” Saidou said. “I don’t have any information; I don’t have any proof.” A senior U.N. official said the Vienna-based IAEA was aware of the assessment but could not yet draw conclusions. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential information. A Western diplomat from a member of the IAEA’s 35-nation board said the report was causing concern among countries that have seen it and was generating intelligence chatter. The diplomat also requested anonymity because he was barred from publicly discussing intelligence information. A two-page summary of the report obtained by the AP said the deal could be completed within weeks. It said Tehran was willing to pay $450 million, or close to euro315 million, for the shipment.

“The price is high because of the secret nature of the deal and due to Iran’s commitment to keep secret the elements supplying the material,” said the summary, adding: “The deal is to be signed soon.” An official of the country that drew up the report said “elements” referred to state employees acting on their own without approval of the Kazakh government.

After-hours calls to offices of Kazatomprom, the Kazakh state uranium company, in Kazakhstan and Moscow, were not answered.

Kazakhstan says no deal struck

ASTANA: Kazakhstan on Wednesday angrily denied it planned to sell Iran purified uranium ore, calling media reports to this effect “groundless insinuations.” Kazakhstan “categorically repudiates certain news media reports alleging Kazakhstan’s connection to a possible deal to supply uranium to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement. The government “considers them groundless insinuations damaging the reputation of country.” — AFP