US investigator exposes Iran's nuclear weapons 'shopping list'


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Mar 21, 2009
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US investigator exposes Iran's nuclear weapons 'shopping list'

Robert Morgenthau, the New York district attorney who is heading a long-term investigation into the Islamic regime's complex web of illicit overseas financial operations, told US senators there was little time left to halt Tehran's atomic weapons programme.

His warning is all the more sobering as Iran last week successfully test-fired a sophisticated medium-range missile that could strike Israel, central Europe and Western forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan with warheads.

"It's late in the game and we don't have a lot of time to stop Iran from developing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons," Mr Morgenthau told a recent Senate hearing. He described Iran's quest as "deadly serious".

His unit's findings also highlight the risks facing President Barack Obama as he hopes to forge improved diplomatic relations with Tehran at the same time as Iran presses ahead with a nuclear programme.

Mr Obama issued a timetable for future talks with Iran for the first time last week, telling the visiting Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that he expected to know by the end of the year whether Tehran was making "a good faith effort to resolve differences".

But some senior figures in Israel are now increasingly convinced that the Obama administration believes that a nuclear-armed Iran is inevitable.

Mr Morgenthau's investigation has brought to light a multi-billion-dollar scam under which Iran channelled funds through Western financial institutions to buy banned dual-use materials for its nuclear and missile programmes. Lloyds TSB has already agreed to pay a fine and forfeiture of $350 million (£220 million) for its role in helping to disguise transactions.

The investigation has revealed that the Iranians were negotiating to buy 400 gyrometers, 600 accelerometers and 100 pieces of the metal tantalum - crucial technology for building accurate long-range missiles that could deliver nuclear payloads.

Mr Morgenthau's unit, which has prosecuted several major US white-collar criminal cases, also established that LIMMT, a Chinese company that has long been a major supplier of banned weapons material to Iran, had shipped a long list of weapons-related materials to Iran after skirting international financial sanctions.

The items included 15,000 kgs of specialised aluminium alloy used almost exclusively in long-range missile production; 1,700 kgs of graphite cylinders used for banned electrical discharge machines; more than 30,000 kgs of tungsten-copper plates; 200 tungsten-copper alloy hollow cylinders; 19,000 kgs of tungsten metal powder and 24,500 kgs of maraging steel rods, which are favoured for their superior strength.

"It's the usual list of items that Iran needs for its missile and weapons programmes," said John Pike, director of, a private security research group. "Whether it's dual use or not is irrelevant. The Iranians are acquiring a glass half-full. They can use that stuff for what they want when they get it."

Mr Morgenthau's office has issued a 118-count indictment against LIMMT and its owner Li Fang Wei for allegedly misusing New York banks via front companies and supplying illicit missile and nuclear technology to Iran. But there are believed to be other targets of the "broad and ongoing" investigation.

His office consulted weapons experts from the CIA, private institutions and universities about what it had uncovered. They were "shocked by the sophistication of the equipment they're buying", he told a hearing of the Senate foreign relations committee.

Those findings were backed up by a staff report by the same committee.

It concluded that Iran could produce enough weapons-grade material to make a bomb within six months and that the regime was operating a "a broad network of front organisations" to purchase weapons material.

Nicholas Burns, the former top American diplomat on Iran, gave a blunt assessment of Iran's motives at the hearing. "I do see the Iranians as a real threat to our country," he said. "There is no question they are seeking a nuclear weapons capability. No one doubts that. They are the principal funder of most of the Middle East terrorist groups that are shooting at us, shooting at the Israelis and the moderate Palestinians.

"And they are influential in Iraq and Afghanistan and sometimes in ways that are very negative to US interests."

The US, Israel, Britain and other Western European nations believe that Iran is secretly developing atomic weapons but Tehran insists that its nuclear programme is for civilian energy purposes.

The regime has recently been focusing on developing reliable medium and long-range missiles as last week's successful test-fire and the deals uncovered by Mr Morgenthau confirm.

The successful launch of the Sejil-2 rocket, which has an estimated 1,200 mile range and a new navigation system and sophisticated sensors, was further sign of its growing missile capacity, weapons experts said.

Iran is moving away from the liquid-fuelled Shahab-3 obtained from North Korea using Pakistani technology, to solid fuel rockets as they are easier to store, move, hide and assemble - and thus harder for Israel or others to target if they launched air strikes.

Mr Netanyahu reiterated Israel's concerns that Iran would soon cross the "no return" threshold for nuclear weapon know-how in his talks with President Obama in Washington. But there is a growing suspicion in Israel that the White House now believes that a nuclear-armed Tehran is inevitable and is preparing policy for dealing with that reality.

"The Americans are in a state of mind according to which Iran has already gone nuclear," Dr Mordechai Kedar, a 25-year veteran of Israeli military intelligence now based at Bar-Ilan's Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, told The Jerusalem Post. "Obama has given up."

Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said: "Even at the official level, [US Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton is on record as saying that the chances of success for negotiations with Iran are very small. If you're going into negotiations which you say ahead of time will likely fail, you're giving the sense that you might not be doing everything possible [to stop the Iranian nuclear programme].

"The US administration is projecting some kind of sense that they're not taking these negotiations seriously enough. If they just go through the motions, but they don't believe talks will succeed, that is worrisome," she said.

US investigator exposes Iran's nuclear weapons 'shopping list'

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