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The goal of American policy right now is to slow down the clock—that is, to stretch out the time Iran needs to become nuclear-arms capable. The hope is to buy time to give other kinds of pressure a better chance to work before military options move to the fore.
Have any Russian nuclear weapons gone missing?
The former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan—where the Soviets based many of their nuclear warheads—safely returned their Soviet nuclear weapons to post-communist Russia in the 1990s, but all three countries still have stockpiles of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.
There have been no confirmed reports of missing or stolen former-Soviet nuclear weapons, but there is ample evidence of a significant black market in nuclear materials. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported more than a hundred nuclear smuggling incidents since 1993, eighteen of which involved highly enriched uranium, the key ingredient in an atomic bomb and the most dangerous product on the nuclear black market.
April 9, 1998
According to Iranian government documents in Israel's possession, Iran received several nuclear warheads from a former Soviet republic during the early 1990s, THE JERUSALEM POST reported.
The documents have been deemed authentic by United States congressional experts and are still being studied in Israel. They contain correspondence between Iranian government officials and leaders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards that discusses Iran's successful efforts to obtain nuclear warheads from former Soviet republics.
The documents appear to bolster reports from 1992 that Iran received enriched uranium and up to four nuclear warheads from Kazakhstan, with help from the Russian underworld.
Meanwhile, U.S. envoy Robert Gallucci held talks in Israel with Government and intelligence agency leaders concerning Russian aid to Iran's ballistic missile program. "The Government acts on priorities, and at the top is the Iranian missile program," an Israeli official said.
Israeli officials said that Jerusalem and Washington agree on the extent
of Iran's progress in developing the new missile, which would be capable of reaching Israel. However, they disagree on whether the Russian government acquiesces in the transfer of Russian missile technology to Iran and whether Moscow is capable of stopping the flow.
Paul Muenstermann, vice president of the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND), says that Iran received two of three nuclear warheads and medium-range nuclear delivery systems that are missing from Kazakhstan. Iranian officials and the commander of the CIS Joint Armed Forces reject these claims. Russian General Victor Samoilov, however, who handles disarmament issues for the CIS general staff, admits that three nuclear warheads were missing from Kazakhstan. Also, Iran allegedly purchased four 152mm nuclear shells from the former Soviet Union, which were allegedly stolen and sold by former Soviet Army officers. The Iranian Foreign Ministry denies these allegations. Lt. General Sergey Zalentsov, senior commander of the United Armed Forces of the CIS and deputy-in-charge of all CIS nuclear arms, also rejects the reports. Iran reportedly received the warheads from Kazakhstan through Bulgaria. However, Iran did not receive the necessary launch codes or missiles capable of carrying the warheads. [Note: See 16 March 1992 entry for the response from Russian and Kazakh officials.]
—"Iran Buys Bomb," 16 March 1992; in Lexis-Nexis, ; Kenneth R. Timmerman, Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Cases of Iran, Syria and Libya (Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1992), p. 52; Nickolay Kalintsev, ITAR-TASS, 16 March 1992; in Proliferation Issues, 3 April 1992, p. 17; The Press Democrat, 17 March 1992, p. A4; Sofia Khorizont Radio Network, 17 March 1992; in Proliferation Issues, 16 March 1992, p. 13.
Amos Guiora, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law and director of its Institute for Global Security Law & Policy says that Iran, not the Palestinians, present the gravest threat to Israel. Iran has nuclear warheads, scattered in some 20 sites, Guiora said. This makes it difficult to remove them in a single strike, as Israel did by bombing Iraq’s nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981. source
Two Iranian diplomats discuss via telephone the acquisition of four nuclear warheads by Iran from one of the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. The two diplomats are identified as an Iranian Foreign Ministry official Abdolrahmani, who is in charge of relations with the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union, and Iranian Deputy Sirus Nasiri Tabatabai-Kia, who is second in command in the Iranian delegation to United Nations institutions and international organizations in Geneva. In the tapped phone conversation between Abdolrahmani and Tabatabai-Kia, which is obtained from an European intelligence service, Abdolrahmani confirms that one of the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union sold four warheads to Iran. Tabatabai-Kia notes that the purchases "completed their mission in the best possible way." Abdolrahmani says that the warheads had not arrived because of a problem with transportation, and that he does not know how much the warheads cost because "some other guy arranged the issue of the payment." In the course of the conversation, the names of Iranian President Rafsanjani's brother-in-law Hajj Mohsen Rafij, and the Iranian defense minister Akbar Torkan are mentioned in connection with the sale.
—"Tapped Line Said To Reveal Deal On Warheads," FBIS, 15 January 1993, pp. 61-62.
Kazakh deputy Ozhas Suleymanov says the three missing nuclear weapons said to have been transferred to Iran have been found at Semipalatinsk.
—Roger Fallgot and Ian Mather, The European, 20 April-3 May 1992, pp. 1-2; Kenneth R. Timmerman, Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Cases of Iran, Syria and Libya (Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1992), p. 52.
Russian television reports that Russian intelligence has told the CIA that two nuclear warheads from Semipalatisk, Khazakhstan, were sold to Iran and another unknown Middle East country with the permission of Kazakhstani President Nazarbayev. The warheads are of a capacity ranging from 2 to 5 kilotons. [Note: See 27 May 1992 entry for NATO statement rebutting this report.]
The European of London reports that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service has said that Iran definitely received two warheads stolen from Semipalatinsk. The report says that the organization selling the weapons had ties to Kazakhstan President Nursaltan Nazarbayev.
—Kenneth R. Timmerman, Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Cases of Iran, Syria and Libya (Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1992), p. 53; Roger Fallgot and Ian Mather, The European, 30 April-3 May 1992, pp. 1-2.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reports that Iran has imported unsafeguarded enriched uranium from an unknown country and calutron magnet cores from West Germany.
VIENNA — Iran has agreed to give the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency greater inspection and monitoring rights to a sensitive site where it is enriching uranium to higher levels, diplomats said Friday.
The move — indirectly confirmed by a senior Iranian envoy — comes as Tehran mounts a diplomatic offensive meant to stave off new U.N. sanctions for its defiance of Security Council demands that it curb nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons.
Iran began enriching uranium to near 20 percent two months ago and says it will be turned into fuel rods for a research reactors that manufacture medical isotopes for cancer patients. It says it was forced to take this step because the big powers refused to meet it half way on a moribund plan that would have supplied the rods from abroad.