Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 1 News List

More than 20 firms linked to nuclear black market: IAEA

INVESTIGATION The UN agency's chief said at least one US company was involved in the network led by a former Pakistani scientist

AP , VIENNA

More than 20 firms -- including at least one US company -- have supplied rogue nations seeking nuclear arms, marking the first time a US firm has been linked to the black market network.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, who is heading a probe into the illicit sales, avoided specifics on the locations of the companies in an interview on Friday.

But a senior diplomat said at least one was in the US -- the first time in five months of investigations by the UN agency that an US company has been implicated in the black market network headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Kahn.

The diplomat, who did not name any of the companies, said Syria and Saudi Arabia were being investigated as possible buyer nations, in addition to Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea -- countries already known to have bought from or been in contact with the clandestine network.

The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that beyond suspicions prompting a continuing investigation, "there has been no proof" that would warrant Syria and Saudi Arabia being reported to the IAEA board of governors.

Syria has been cited by the US as trying to acquire the technology to make nuclear weapons, including centrifuges needed to enrich uranium, a charge Damascus denies.

Saudi Arabia has denied news reports that it agreed to supply Pakistan with oil in exchange for nuclear know-how as a hedge against fears that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.

During ElBaradei's visit to Israel, which ended Thursday, officials repeatedly expressed concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions, but did not mention the other two countries, according to officials familiar with the discussions in Jerusalem.

ElBaradei's route to Israel had been kept confidential by the agency. But he confirmed on Friday that he had arrived from Dubai, a major shipping and supply point used by the Khan network for clients in the Middle East and possibly some African nations.

ElBaradei said he had talked to the defense, police and foreign ministers of the United Arab Emir-ates on ways to block ports and other transport routes for illicit nuclear shipments.

Of the firms that have supplied the nuclear black market, he would give no details beyond saying they were in "over 20 countries, some of them in North America."

The diplomat said ElBaradei also had pressed for direct access to some of the Khan middlemen who had worked out of Dubai.

ElBaradei said his agency's investigations had revealed no operations similar to the one run by Khan.

"From what we have seen so far, it was all under his oversight," he said.

Investigations earlier this year of Libya's nuclear weapons program revealed that Khan's middlemen sold the country blueprints of a nuclear bomb, raising concerns other nations might have acquired similar know-how. But ElBaradei said none had been discovered so far.

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