Iran's Nuclear Web

The New York Times
February 13, 2007

Publication Type: 

  • Articles and Reports

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear


Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin

International inspectors confirmed this month that Iran is equipping its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, a step that brings it closer to building an atomic bomb and brashly defies a United Nations resolution passed in December. So it might seem like good news that the foreign ministers of 27 European Union nations announced yesterday that, in accord with the resolution, they will impose a ban on selling nuclear-related materials and technology to Iran and put a freeze on the assets of 10 Iranian organizations and 12 people.

However, nothing involving nuclear proliferation is ever that simple. The December resolution called for measures not only against the named entities, but also against companies that are "owned or controlled" by the culprits or that act "on their behalf or at their direction." The United States, Britain and France have been pushing to enforce this language broadly, to ensnare any subsidiaries and affiliates. But Germany, Italy and Spain, among others, have resisted, mainly because of trade interests.

Yesterday's European Union agreement muddied the issue, failing to clamp down on any subsidiaries, but reserving the right to add names of affiliates in the future. America, Britain and France must pressure the other Europeans to spread their net as wide as possible.

How important is it to include subsidiaries? Consider the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, a government entity that is on the sanctions list. It operates the Karaj Nuclear Research Center for Medicine and Agriculture, where unexplained traces of fissile material were found by United Nations inspectors; it runs the Nuclear Research Center in Tehran, which inspectors discovered had secretly produced plutonium; it uses Pioneer Energy Industries to build uranium processing plants; and, according to the United States Treasury Department, it funnels money to companies that do its nuclear bidding through an entity called the Novin Energy Company. All of these other entities should have their assets frozen as well.

Consider also Iran's Defense Industries Organization, controlled by the Ministry of Defense. It is on the sanctions list, but most of its subsidiaries are not. These include its Special Industries Group, which produces nuclear, biological and chemical weapon protection gear; its Chemical Industries Group, which makes propellant charges and explosives; and its Ammunition Industries Group, which produces mortars and grenades. And, like Russian stacking dolls, each of these groups has subsidiaries: the Ammunition Industries Group has at least eight major organizations under it.

One of the people due to have assets frozen is Ahmad Vahid Dastjerdi, the head of Iran's Aerospace Industries Organization, which produces most of Iran's missiles. According to the Treasury Department, his group uses two subordinate entities - the Sanam Industrial Group and the Ya Mahdi Industries Group - to purchase missile parts and technology from abroad. All of these groups should be sanctioned because they act at Mr. Dastjerdi's direction.

If the West is truly going to keep Tehran from getting the bomb, we will have to block every asset and shun every company involved. Not only does the United Nations require it, it is elementary self-defense.


Valerie Lincy is a Research Associate at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, and Gary Milhollin is the Director. They edit the Project's web site.