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Russia Sells Iran AVLIS System for Advanced Uranium Enrichment

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

August 28, 2003, 9:31 AM (GMT+02:00)

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA – put out a disturbing report this week confirming earlier DEBKAfile revelations that traces of uranium enrichment activity were found in samples at Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, 290 km south of Tehran, evidence that Iran was in the process of building a nuclear arsenal.

Agency officials admit that Tehran is in clear non-compliance with its nuclear safeguard obligations and may even have laid itself open to a complaint to the UN Security Council and the threat of sanctions.

In issue Number 120, published on August 8, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources reported exclusively that in the second week of July Russia secretly delivered the components of the AVLIS (atomic vapor laser isotope separator) system aboard unmarked military transports.

This accelerated and environmentally clean process of uranium enrichment was first developed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California, for the US Department of Energy in the 1970s. In 1998, the Iranians were reported working on their own AVLIS. The version supplied by Russian is apparently based on more advanced technology. While the US energy department suspended AVLIS development in 1998, the Russians appear to have stepped up production, counting on an expanding future exports to governments bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, India and Pakistan.

The Russian components came with Russian technicians for assembling the apparatus and teaching Iranian nuclear technicians how to use it.

According to the information obtained by DEBKA-Net-Weekly , AVLIS has been installed at two of Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities, Natanz and Moallen Kalayeh. The latter is Iran’s most secluded subterranean nuclear plant, buried under the Albroz Mountains 40 km north of Tehran. In its tall tunnels, Iran carries out its most secret tests.

Moallen Kalayeh used to be a small rural village. Today it is a closed township populated by hundreds of scientists and technicians. It is also one of the most heavily protected places in the country. The Iranians are putting the new equipment to work at top speed at the peak of their effort to build up a stock of enriched uranium sufficient for a nuclear device before September 8, when the Nuclear Atomic Energy Agency’s board convenes in Vienna to discuss the Iran report.

Tehran has also been racing against the clock to forestall decisions at the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program that began in Beijing August 27, before they impede Iran’s related progress towards a nuclear weapon. Attending the talks are the US, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and China, the host.

According to our Moscow sources, Russian military circles as certain that without that AVLIS would not have been consigned to Iran without the okay of President Vladimir Putin. He would have seen the delivery as a means of getting round his promise to President George W. Bush not to send Iran spent nuclear rods to fuel the Bushehr nuclear reactor and a way of compensating Iran for this letdown.

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Targeting Tehran

Israel has ready a plan to bomb Iran's Bushehr nuclear-power plant should the Persian Gulf coast facility, now under construction, begin producing weapons-grade material, an insider tells us.

This source says Israel has mapped out a route its jet fighters would take to destroy what is designed to be a two-reactor plant. A successful strike would ensure that the radical Tehran regime does not develop nuclear weapons. Iran has tested 600-mile-range ballistic missiles that can reach Israel and carry nuclear, biological or chemical warheads.

Russia has signed an $800 million contract to provide two reactors for the plant near the port city of Bushehr. The United States opposes the deal, as well as any nuclear program in Iran.

Israeli F-16s penetrated Iraqi airspace in 1981 to bomb the Osiraq nuclear-power plant, at the Tuwaitha nuclear center near Baghdad. Analysts believe the action, while condemned by the international community, kept Saddam Hussein from acquiring the bomb.

U.S. Central Command has contingency plans for war with Iran, but there is no active discussion of invading a country that President Bush has put in the "axis of evil." Still, some in the Pentagon talk unofficially of what would be needed to take out the Bushehr plant.

So long, Jack

Charles L. "Jack" Pritchard dropped one on the Bush administration this week by quitting his job as special envoy on North Korea to join the liberal Brookings Institution, days before the next round of talks on the North Korean nuclear dispute.

The implicit message in the abrupt departure was that Mr. Pritchard disagreed with the current policy.

The special envoy was viewed within the administration as a "Clintonista" who favored the former president's appeasement approach to North Korea. He even went on the now-infamous October 2000 visit to North Korea by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who boasted of being the first secretary of state to dance with North Korean children — while remaining silent on the plight of the starving people in the communist dictatorship.

Now some in the administration are returning fire. One source joked that Mr. Pritchard is called Jack because "he doesn't know jack."

With Mr. Pritchard gone, one official said: "Now at least our internal disagreements won't be between the Bush and Clinton administrations," a reference to the surprising number of Clinton holdovers who control key slots on the Bush national-security team.

Iraq strategy

Commenting on the current insurgency in Iraq is Robert Andrews, a former Green Beret and Vietnam War veteran who until recently served as a special-operations policy-maker in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

He tells us it was Napoleon's older brother, Joseph, who, while installed as king of Spain, faced local insurgents in a struggle that produced the term "guerrilla warfare."

"Joseph wrote his brother to say that 'One can do everything with bayonets except sit on them,' " Mr. Andrews said.

"The more I see — from a distance — about Iraq, I'm convinced that more bayonets [and] conventional troops isn't the answer," Mr. Andrews said. "Indeed, adding conventional troops could result in more targets for an increasingly restive Iraqi population."

Mr. Andrews says one solution would be to use special-operations commandos and intelligence assets to work within the Iraqi population to conduct counterterror operations.

At the same time, the United States could reduce conventional force levels.

"The conventional forces we do keep in the country would be stationed away from the population and organized into highly mobile, instant-response strike units," he said.

Army Europe

Some in the Army are predicting that the 1st Armored Division, based in Germany, will never go back to Europe once its rotation ends in Iraq next year. Instead, the division of 20,000-plus soldiers will relocate stateside, perhaps at Fort Riley, Kan., or Fort Carson, Colo.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wants a smaller Army presence in Europe, so it makes sense to send the division back home next year instead of sending it back to Germany and then the United States.

The Pentagon also plans to disperse Army units from Germany into Eastern European bases and to rotate forces in and out of Europe to maintain a strong presence.

White writes

Former Army Secretary Thomas E. White has weighed into the debate over how to run post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

He is out with a new book "Reconstructing Eden," which offers what the retired Army general says is a "comprehensive plan for the postwar political and economic development of Iraq."

"Unbelievably, American lives are being lost daily and the U.S. is spending over $4 billion per month in Iraq without a cohesive, integrated plan to build a stable, self-sufficient country within an identified timeframe," Gen. White said in a note to this column that accompanied the book.

"We did not conduct the war this way, and we should not continue rebuilding the country in a haphazard manner. The result will be a financial disaster, more lives lost, chaos in Iraq and squandered American goodwill."

Among Gen. White's proposals:

•U.S. forces will end security operations by June 30, 2005, turning over those chores to a coalition-trained police force and military. The total cost of reconstruction at that point would be $150 billion. Military operations in the theater will cost the United States $58 billion, from January to the end of the current fiscal year Sept. 30.

•The United States should communicate more with the international community on producing a comprehensive plan for reconstructing Iraq and transforming it into a democratic, capitalist country.

•To improve what administrator L. Paul Bremer acknowledges is a security problem, the coalition should issue photo ID cards to all Iraqis during the transition to a new constitution. Another measure is strict gun control, allowing citizens to only keep registered small arms.

•Iraq's new constitution should call for an American-style democracy, with an executive branch headed by an elected president, balanced by legislative and judicial branches. The country would be divided into 18 provinces, each ruled by a governor.

"Reconstructing Eden" was published by the Houston-based CountryWatch, which conducts research on the world's 192 countries for businesses and other organizations. Co-authors are Robert C. Kelly, John M. Cape, and Denise Youngblood Coleman.

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