Face to Face
An interview with a defector from Iranís secretive nuclear establishment
Paris, Jul. 13 - Alireza
Assar received his Master of Science degree in
high energy physics and elementary particles from the University of St.
Andrews in Scotland in 1977, his PhD in mathematics from the University of
Vienna, and studied theoretical physics at the prestigious International
Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. He was a professor of
physics in Shahid Bahonar University in Kerman (southern Iran) and acted as a Ministry of Defence consultant on Iran's nuclear programme
until the early 1990s. He left Iran in 1992, but has maintained
contact with his friends and fellow scientists in the country.
Iran Focus: Many suspect Iran of secretly running a nuclear
weapons programme. Iran says its nuclear programme is for entirely peaceful purposes. What is
Assar: There are two parallel
nuclear programmes in Iran. The one run by the Atomic
Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) is centred on
the light water reactor in Bushehr. Ostensibly,
this plant was designed to generate electricity. But the Iranian regime has
developed a vast uranium enrichment programme
that was hidden from the outside world until 2002, when the National
Council of Resistance of Iran first exposed it. This is the military programme that was designed to produce enough highly
enriched uranium to enable the regime to produce nuclear weapons. I know
for certain that this programme has been in
operation for at least 18 years, and it has been under the control of the
Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Defence,
completely separated from the AEOI. There are many experts in AEOI who have
no information about the military programme.
Q: Iranís Foreign Minister said
recently that Iran has a rapidly growing
population and needs nuclear power to produce electricity.
A: Itís an insult to intelligence to say that a regime that was
hiding a vast uranium enrichment programme and
other critical aspects of its nuclear project from the international
community for 18 years was trying to produce electricity.
Q: How did you become involved in the military side of the nuclear programme?
A: They came to me. When I was teaching in the University of Kerman, the Revolutionary Guards
invited me in 1985 to cooperate with them on a nuclear project. I even had
two meetings in 1987 and 1988 with then-Commander in Chief of the
Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezai
[now the secretary general of the State Expediency Council], who came with
two of his senior commanders to Kerman for these meetings. We met in
the office of the governor of Kerman. They were interested in
neutron triggers for nuclear explosion. I suggested that the research would
be cost-prohibitive. They said how much do you have in mind? I said, 100
million dollars. Rezai smiled and said, ďWe had
allocated 800 million dollars to this. Go aheadĒ. This and other
conversations with the top commanders of the Revolutionary Guards proved to
me that they were after the nuclear bomb and that this was a state policy. Could
commanders of the Revolutionary Guards act just on their own and dole out
800-million-dollar budgets? No way.
Q: Were you alone in those meetings?
A: No. There were two other nuclear scientists, Alireza
Bahrampour and Mohammad Bolourizadeh.
Both of them worked for the Ministry of Defence. Bahrampour focused on the use of laser technology in
missile guidance systems. The Revolutionary Guards have for long been
studying the problems associated with delivery of nuclear weapons. The
actual production of a crude nuclear bomb was not such a big challenge, but
to make a bomb light enough and small enough to fit into the warhead of a
missile was a much bigger challenge. They have been working on that for
Q: How soon will they have the bomb?
A: As a physicist with a lot of experience and contacts inside Iranís nuclear establishment, I have
no doubt in my mind that the regime in Tehran is not far from the nuclear
bomb. They have the precursors they need, so itís a matter of engineering
and time. We mustnít have any illusions. The current leadership in Tehran sees nuclear weapons as an
indispensable part of its strategy.
Q: How does the arrival of the new ultra-conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad change
A: You have to understand that the nuclear weapons programme is the exclusive fief of the Revolutionary
Guards. Now that you have at the head of the executive branch a former
commander of the Revolutionary Guards with a track record as the one Ahmadinejad has, the nuclear weapons programme will receive a great boost. They will be able
to make use of all the resources of the state without worrying about other
internal factions. So Ahmadinejadís arrival is
going to make the nuclear clock in Iran tick faster. He is an obedient
disciple of [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei,
so the nuclear talks [with the Europeans] will certainly get to nowhere.
Q: There is a big row over the question of uranium enrichment. The U.S. position is that Iran must abandon enrichment
altogether. The British and the Germans agree, but France seems to be willing to allow a
degree of enrichment to continue. How do you see this?
A: Itíll be a disaster to allow the Iranian regime to continue any
enrichment programme. Why does the regime insist
on keeping even a limited enrichment programme? The
reason is that if you have thousands of centrifuge machines, which they
have, then it will be very easy for them to hide a certain number of these
machines in some of the many military sites.
Q: So itís hopeless to try to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons?
A: It will certainly be hopeless to continue the cat-and-mouse game
that has been going on for the past three years. The Europeans have put
themselves in a hopeless position with their two agreements with Tehran. In this game, the onus is on
them to find the needle in the haystack. They must find out if Iran is hiding centrifuge machines
in a country three times as big as France. The mullahs have a policy of
ďcatch me if you canĒ. The Iranian regime has never come forward and
declared something completely unknown to the IAEA [International Atomic
Energy Agency]. Every single declaration by the Iranian regime has been in
response to revelations by the National Council of Resistance or
discoveries by the IAEA itself. Iranís declarations are a collection
of denials, changes stories, and belated admissions.
Q: What about the Iranian people? Some commentators say the majority
of Iranians want the Islamic Republic to have nuclear weapons.
A: Thatís just buying their propaganda at face value. The vast
majority of Iranians, particularly the educated people and scientists,
cannot wait to see the end of this religious dictatorship. So they see
nuclear weapons in the hands of the mullahs as something that will prolong
their rule. Thatís why they donít want it.
Q: What should be done?
A: If there is a will, there is a way. Stop the concessions and take
the case to the Security Council and make it clear that the world will not
tolerate an Islamic fundamentalist regime and state sponsor of terrorism
armed with nuclear weapons. The mullahs understand the language of force.
The only way to stop them is to make the choice crystal clear to them. At
the moment, they think the West is too divided and irresolute and
interested in trade and oil to act with firmness.