Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tonnes of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained by The Associated Press (AP).
Such a deal would be significant because, according to an independent research group, Tehran appears to be running out of the material, which it needs to feed its uranium enrichment program.
Diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran’s nuclear activities.
The report was drawn up by a member nation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and provided on Tuesday to the AP on condition that the country not be identified because of the confidential nature of the information.
In the US, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said “the transfer of any uranium yellowcake ... to Iran would constitute a clear violation of UNSC [UN Security Council] sanctions.”
Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Yerzhan Ashikbayev denied the claims yesterday, saying the former Soviet nation has fully observed its international obligations.
“All Kazakhstan’s activities in the uranium sphere have been under the IAEA control,” he said.
A spokesman for Kazatomprom, the Kazakh state uranium company, also rejected the claims.
A senior US official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was talking about confidential information said late on Tuesday that Washington was aware of the intelligence report, but he declined to discuss specifics.
“We are not going to discuss our private consultations with other governments on such matters but, suffice to say, we have been engaged with Kazakhstan and many of our other international nonproliferation partners on this subject in particular over the past several years,” he said.
A two-page summary of the report obtained by the AP said the deal could be completed within weeks.
It said Tehran was willing to pay US$450 million for the shipment.
Meanwhile, Iran has detained about 1,000 people in a continuing crackdown on the opposition after the biggest anti-government demonstrations in six months, a human rights group said.
The New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said it feared that the detainees, who include prominent opposition activists and journalists, would be tortured to produce false confessions that the protests were instigated by foreign governments. Police have said more than 300 were arrested.
“It may be assumed that many detainees will be subjected to torture followed by ‘show trials’ and convicted of crimes that carry the death penalty in the Islamic Republic,” a spokesman for the group, Aaron Rhodes, said in an e-mailed statement late yesterday.
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