Minister Alexander Downer Responds to Questions Regarding Iran (Excerpts)

March 10, 2004

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Mr BRUCE SCOTT (2.58 p.m.): My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the effect international pressure has had on Iran's attempts to gain access to sensitive nuclear technologies?

Mr DOWNER: I thank the honourable member for Maranoa. These are important issues, and I appreciate him raising them in the House today. As the honourable member knows, Australia has been in the forefront of efforts to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction proliferation. This, of course, has been in the case of Iraq, but we have taken firm action in the International Atomic Energy Agency and in other forums to ensure that states comply with their obligations under various international instruments, including the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. I visited Iran in May 2003. My officials and I have a lot of contact with the Iranians, and we have delivered strong messages to them about the pursuit of sensitive nuclear technologies.The iraq war no doubt had an impact, and also other elements of international pressure did lead Iran to reveal its pursuit of sensitive nuclear activities. We have welcomed their greater engagement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but the nuclear program in Iran has turned out to be more extensive and more advanced than had previously been thought. This will be a matter discussed at the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting this week, and honourable members will know that Australia is one of the members of that board.

Amongst the revelations that the IAEA has brought forward is the fact that Iran have breached strict export conditions on the use of an Australian supplied mass spectrometer. A mass spectrometer measures in fine detail the composition of materials and has a wide range of applications. This export was intended to support agricultural and medical research, including cancer diagnosis, but the IAEA has discovered that this export was used to test enriched uranium samples, and Iran have admitted to this happening on at least one occasion. We have explained to the Iranian government that they have breached their export conditions and have sought a full explanation from them and asked Iran to return the instrument if we cannot be confident that they will adhere to the strict conditions governing the instrument's use. Iran have provided details of their activities, and they assisted our ambassador in making an inspection of the mass spectrometer on 7 March. The government values its relationship with Iran. We are engaging constructively with them on the nuclear issue. We welcome Iran's cooperation and hope that the fact that the conditions of the export permit were breached on this occasion and the fact that we have now made this public will ensure that such activities do not occur again in the future.

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