Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has lifted the lid on Pakistan’s role in the development of Iran’s nuclear programme, saying Pakistan provided designs and technology, including 4,000 used centrifuges for enriching uranium.
Rafsanjani also said in an interview with Iranian media this week that Iran considered pursuing a nuclear deterrent when it began its atomic programme in the 1980s in the midst of an eight-year war with Iraq.
He did not state clearly whether the transfer of the technology and designs had the sanction of the Pakistani government or was the work of the proliferation ring run by disgraced scientist AQ Khan.
Khan was among those who believed Iran should have the bomb, he said. Both Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Khamenei – Iran’s current Supreme Leader – tried unsuccessfully to meet Khan during visits to Pakistan.
“At the time that we started, we were at war and we were looking to have this capability (the nuclear bomb) for the day that our enemy would want to resort to the nuclear bomb,” Rafsanjani said.
Iran turned to Pakistan for help with its nuclear programme after it “lost faith in the Germans” following the 1979 revolution and “began thinking of alternative approaches”, he said. “We had talks with the Pakistanis, a scientist called Mr Abdal-Qadir Khan (AQ Khan),” Rafsanjani said in the interview with Etemad newspaper.
“During my visits to Pakistan, I wanted to meet him but they did not introduce him to me. Ayatollah Khamenei too did not meet him. But during the (Iran-Iraq) war, we both tried to restart the program. It seems (AQ) Khan himself was of the belief that the world of Islam should have a nuclear bomb,” he said.
“At any rate, it was agreed that they (Pakistan) should help us a bit – for example, by delivering second-hand first-generation centrifuges, along with some designs – so that we could build it ourselves. Gradually, we started the work...,” he added.
“The Pakistanis gave us 4,000 second-hand first-generation centrifuges, along with designs.”
The centrifuges received from Pakistan were used for the “first part of the enrichment work” at a facility established in Amir Abad.
Rafsanjani also provided details of the help provided by Pakistan’s close ally China. “In Saghand, the Chinese drilled very deep wells until we reached uranium,” he said.
“The Isfahan UCF (uranium conversion facility) was built by the Chinese. They produced the plans,” Rafsanjani said. “We gave the Chinese $60 million for Isfahan, but they left the job unfinished.”
There were also “all sorts of black market offers”. Without giving details, Rafsanjani said: “Some offered us 90% enriched uranium, others 100%, and others offered technology.”
Pakistan has insisted for long that all nuclear transfers to Iran were the work of Khan’s clandestine network. Khan was placed under house arrest after he confessed to running the proliferation ring in 2004. He subsequently retracted the confession and said he had acted on the instructions of successive governments.
In 2009, Pakistan lifted most of the restrictions imposed on Khan. However, it has not allowed him to be questioned by US or IAEA investigators.
In the past, Iran has informed the IAEA that the Pakistani network had provided centrifuge specifications and equipment and a document on shaping enriched uranium for use in a bomb.