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ASTANA - Kazakhstan and Iran both denied an Associated Press (AP) report December 30 that the two countries were in secret talks for the purchase of 1,350 tonnes of processed Kazakh uranium.
Despite denials that it is seeking uranium for nuclear weapons, experts believe Iran has almost run out of processed uranium ore and is seeking additional stocks to build bombs.
The AP said it obtained a two-page summary of the classified intelligence report, prepared by an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) member country. The news agency said the $450 million deal would be completed in the next few weeks. The AP also reported that the summary states Kazakh government employees were acting on their own without official approval.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs categorically repudiates certain news media reports alleging Kazakhstan's connection to a possible deal to supply uranium to Iran and considers them groundless insinuations damaging the reputation of our country”, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said in an official statement December 30.
The statement reiterated that, “Kazakhstan is firmly committed to the principles of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction... and remains committed to the principles of the Treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, the UN Convention on physical protection of nuclear materials, as well as the principles and rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group”.
An Iranian Foreign Ministry press spokesman in Tehran told Central Asia Online that the AP report is “a provocation”.
“The Western media is often releasing provocative reports against Iran, but this doesn’t mean it is true”, he said.
An IAEA representative in Vienna who asked not to be identified said: “The agency is aware of this claim, and there has been some follow-up and contact with the Kazakh side”. The source added: “It’s not to Kazakhstan’s advantage to sell uranium secretly to Iran, as Kazakhstan is interested in becoming a world leader in this industry”.
Kazakhstan will produce some 14,000 tonnes of uranium by year’s end, becoming the world’s largest uranium producer, according to a press release from KazAtomProm, the state corporation that exports and imports uranium and other nuclear materials. There are some 21 uranium mines in the country, which has 15 percent of the world’s known deposits.
According to some experts, Iran is running out of uranium, much of which it purchased from South Africa in the 1970s when the then-Shah of Iran launched the country’s nuclear power program.
“Iran is running out of yellow cake, which is a raw material”, said Jacqueline Shire, an expert on Iran’s nuclear programs at the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, and a former US State Department proliferation and weapons specialist. “According to our calculations they currently have about 100 tonnes of it, but for full operations in Esfahan they need more - about 300 tonnes per year”.
Shire said the AP story about Kazakhstan may or may not be true but that “it is believable” that Iran is seeking new sources of uranium. The Times of London reported in January 2009 that an IAEA report found that Iran was getting low on uranium, and British diplomats had begun lobbying Kazakhstan,
Uzbekistan and other uranium producing countries in an effort to prevent Iran from replenishing its stocks. In December 2006, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran for its uranium enrichment activities and banned the sale of nuclear materials, including uranium, to Iran.
“Whoever sells it to them will be violating the UN Security Council resolutions,” Shire said. “If not in Kazakhstan, Iran can buy the raw material in many places – there are sources in Africa, in Canada, in Australia. But whoever sells it will be violating the resolutions”.