Q+A: Is alleged Iran nuclear memo really a "smoking gun?"

Wed Dec 16, 2009 1:07pm EST
 
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By Mark Heinrich

LONDON (Reuters) - A leaked memo appearing to show Iran trying to design an atomic bomb trigger would undercut its assertion that it seeks only peaceful nuclear energy and harden fears it is nearing the capability to make nuclear weapons.

But caveats are in order. The memo in the hands of Western intelligence services and the U.N. nuclear watchdog has not been authenticated. Even if genuine, it may prove no more than a bid to develop competency for a possible nuclear "breakout" in the future, not an outright, illicit program to build bombs.

The following outlines the issues involved and where the International Atomic Energy Agency's investigation into alleged military dimensions to Iran's nuclear ambitions stands.

WHAT IS THIS MEMO AND WHAT DOES IT SAY?

The Times of London published on Monday what it said was the Farsi-language document, along with an English translation, entitled, "Outlook for Special Neutron-Related Activities Over the Next Four Years." It describes steps to develop and test parts for a neutron initiator, a device that floods the core of highly enriched uranium with subatomic particles to touch off the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion.

"At present our capabilities are reasonably good although, of course, not perfect," the translated memo reads. It alludes to the need to minimize the number of agencies involved in the work to keep it secret "in view of Iran's situation."

Tehran is concerned about attack by arch-foe Israel, and has stonewalled IAEA investigators seeking access to check intelligence reports about covert nuclear "weaponization" work.

WHEN WAS THE MEMO ISSUED?   Continued...