Friday 15 December 2017

Iran in global drive to hire nuclear weapons experts

Damien McElroy in Geneva

Iran is operating a worldwide recruitment network for nuclear scientists to work on its weapons programme, Iranian officials claim.

They say the country is attracting North Korean and African scientists to work on developing missiles and nuclear production.

North Korea relies on a lucrative financing agreement with Iran to fund its expanding nuclear activities. In return for Iranian money and testing facilities, North Korea sends technology and scientists.

Mohamed Reza Heydari, a former Iranian consul in Oslo, said he had helped scores of North Koreans enter the country while working for the foreign ministry in Tehran's Imam Khomenei airport.

"Our mission was to coordinate with a team from the Ministry of Intelligence in checking the visas of the foreign diplomatic and trade delegates who visited Iran," he said.

"We had the instructions to forgo any visa and passport inspections for Palestinians belonging to Hamas and North Korean military and engineering staff who visit Iran on a regular basis.

"The North Koreans were all technicians and military experts involved in two aspects of Iran's nuclear programme.

"One was to enable Iran to achieve nuclear bomb capability, and the other to help increase the range of Iran's ballistic missiles.

"In all our embassies abroad, especially in the African countries, the foreign ministry staff were always looking for local scientists and technicians who were experts in nuclear technology and to offer them lucrative contracts to lure them into Iran.

"The facade of the nuclear programme is that it is for peaceful purposes, but behind it they have a completely different agenda," Mr Reza Heydari said.

Western officials have been alarmed at the sophistication of a new North Korean uranium enrichment facility near Yongbyon, built without any prior warning. The plant's similarity to Iran's programme has raised alarm over the co-operation between two countries.

Last year Iran was forced to admit it was secretly building a second enrichment plant near Qom, a facility that has North Korean hallmarks.

Simon Henderson, an expert on Iran's nuclear programme at the Washington Institute, said there was a need to "reassess" Iran's technical capabilities in light of the North Korean revelations. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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