Alleged Iranian Uranium Deal With Zimbabwe May Revive Sanctions Debate

None

Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
See more stories about...
Diane Barnes, Global Security Newswire
Aug. 21, 2013, 12:02 p.m.

WASH­ING­TON — An al­leged clandes­tine deal in which Zi­m­b­ab­we might sell sens­it­ive nuc­le­ar ma­ter­i­al to Ir­an could re­vive de­bate over the Per­sian Gulf na­tion’s abil­ity to im­port urani­um ore, des­pite in­ter­na­tion­al sanc­tions.

Zi­m­b­ab­we’s gov­ern­ment took pains last week to deny al­leg­a­tions that it was secretly pre­par­ing to sup­ply Ir­an with un­re­fined urani­um, go­ing so far as to hunt down a journ­al­ist who had re­por­ted the story and to de­mand a con­fes­sion that he had fab­ric­ated sub­stan­ti­at­ing com­ments from a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

Some ana­lysts, though, say the south­ern Afric­an na­tion has parsed its deni­als, leav­ing open the pos­sib­il­ity of back­track­ing later on, should it ever de­cide to sell urani­um ore to the sus­pec­ted nuc­le­ar arms as­pir­ant.

The Times of Lon­don on Aug. 10 quoted a seni­or of­fi­cial in Zi­m­b­ab­we’s min­ing min­istry de­scrib­ing a memor­andum of un­der­stand­ing “to ex­port urani­um to the Ir­a­ni­ans.”

The art­icle’s head­line de­scribes the un­der­stand­ing as a “secret deal.” Para­phras­ing the of­fi­cial, the news­pa­per said the ar­range­ment was known by “only a hand­ful of people at the top of Zi­m­b­ab­we’s gov­ern­ment.”

If true, the planned trans­fer of the sens­it­ive ma­ter­i­al could po­ten­tially vi­ol­ate in­ter­na­tion­al sanc­tions against Ir­an. Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies con­tend the Per­sian Gulf na­tion has flouted its U.N. atom­ic safe­guards agree­ment and pre­vi­ously hid­den mil­it­ary ef­forts aimed at ul­ti­mately de­vel­op­ing nuc­le­ar war­heads.

The re­port’s pub­lic­a­tion promp­ted a scramble by Pres­id­ent Robert Mugabe’s gov­ern­ment to provide an ex­plan­a­tion. Deputy Mines and Min­ing De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Gift Chi­manikire, the re­por­ted source of the rev­el­a­tion, ac­cused the Brit­ish news­pa­per of mis­rep­res­ent­ing his com­ments in an Aug. 8 in­ter­view.

Journ­al­ist Jerome Star­key “thought of selling his pa­per by be­ing un­truth­ful,” Chi­manikire told Zi­m­b­ab­we’s Sunday Mail news­pa­per. Sep­ar­ately, Mugabe’s min­is­ter for mines and min­ing de­vel­op­ment sug­ges­ted that the Times re­port­er’s con­ver­sa­tion with his deputy had taken place “in a dream.”

Zi­m­b­ab­wean au­thor­it­ies then re­portedly went a step fur­ther, ar­rest­ing the art­icle’s co-au­thor — vet­er­an cor­res­pond­ent Jan Raath — and com­pel­ling him on Thursday to state in an af­fi­davit that he had fals­i­fied his con­tri­bu­tion to the story.

Star­key, who tweeted last Monday that he was in Kenya, a day earli­er de­cried Zi­m­b­ab­we’s search for the journ­al­ists as a “man­hunt.” With its force­ful re­sponse, the Mugabe gov­ern­ment ap­peared to be un­der­scor­ing its deni­al that one of its of­fi­cials had told them about a back­room urani­um agree­ment with Tehran, Star­key in­dic­ated on Fri­day in re­sponse to a ques­tion.

Ir­an could re­fine raw urani­um in­to fuel for nuc­le­ar power plants and non­mil­it­ary re­search re­act­ors, but the United States and oth­er West­ern coun­tries fear the Per­sian Gulf state wants to en­rich the ma­ter­i­al to high pur­it­ies for pos­sible use in nuc­le­ar weapons.

The U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil threatens harsh eco­nom­ic sanc­tions against any coun­try found to sell urani­um to Ir­an, ex­cept in pre-made nuc­le­ar power plant fuel rods.

However, neither Ir­an nor Zi­m­b­ab­we is leg­ally ob­lig­ated to keep in­ter­na­tion­al mon­it­ors ap­prised of any trade in un­re­fined urani­um ore, ac­cord­ing to Olli Heinon­en, a former top mon­it­or­ing of­fi­cial for the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency. The U.N. watch­dog or­gan­iz­a­tion is re­spons­ible for en­sur­ing that nuc­le­ar as­sets un­der its watch are not di­ver­ted for mil­it­ary use.

“If Ir­an re­cov­ers urani­um from the ore, it is ob­liged to re­port it only when it has reached the pur­ity suit­able for fuel fab­ric­a­tion or en­rich­ment,” Heinon­en, now a seni­or fel­low with Har­vard Uni­versity’s Belfer Cen­ter for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tion­al Af­fairs, said in an e-mailed re­sponse to ques­tions.

Ir­an is now known in the 1990s to have dis­creetly im­por­ted urani­um in forms it was sup­posed to de­clare, and its his­tory of car­ry­ing out clandes­tine nuc­le­ar en­ergy activ­it­ies has cre­ated long­stand­ing in­ter­na­tion­al wor­ries that some amount of Ir­a­ni­an atom­ic work might still be go­ing un­re­por­ted to the U.N. or­gan­iz­a­tion.

In 2003, Tehran dis­puted the agency’s con­ten­tion that it was ob­lig­ated to re­port a dif­fer­ent form of urani­um it had ac­quired from abroad 12 years earli­er.

Ir­an has long denied har­bor­ing nuc­le­ar-bomb am­bi­tions and in­sists it needs raw urani­um to feed its le­git­im­ate atom­ic activ­it­ies. Tehran de­scribed plans to build new re­search re­act­ors when it an­nounced the launch of two new do­mest­ic urani­um mines in April. Carne­gie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tion­al Peace nuc­le­ar ex­pert Mark Hi­bbs, speak­ing to GSN by tele­phone from Ber­lin, noted that Ir­a­ni­an of­fi­cials fore­see a short­fall from the coun­try’s do­mest­ic stocks as it ex­pands its atom­ic en­ergy pro­gram.

Speak­ing to Bloomberg with­in hours of the Times art­icle’s pub­lic­a­tion, Chi­manikire said Zi­m­b­ab­we had reached a broad “min­er­al trad­ing” agree­ment with Ir­an that does not spe­cify the ex­port of urani­um. He ad­ded, though, that his coun­try is still work­ing out how much urani­um it pos­sesses, and has yet to be­gin provid­ing the sub­stance “to any­one at all.”

An ex­pert in Afric­an eco­nom­ics and se­cur­ity said the Mugabe gov­ern­ment care­fully qual­i­fied its re­but­tal of the Times art­icle. Zi­m­b­ab­we last week said its urani­um re­sources were still un­tapped, and the coun­try has “nev­er is­sued any [min­ing] li­cense to any Ir­a­ni­an com­pany.”

Still, the Afric­an na­tion “has been court­ing po­ten­tial in­vestors for its min­er­al de­pos­its — in­clud­ing urani­um — for some time,” Ray­mond Gilpin, dean of the Na­tion­al De­fense Uni­versity’s Africa Cen­ter for Stra­tegic Stud­ies,” told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire in an e-mail.

In early 2011, the coun­try form­ally wel­comed Tehran to ac­cess its urani­um ore.

“Zi­m­b­ab­we holds rich re­sources, but the prob­lem we face is lack of budget, fin­ance and re­quired tech­nic­al equip­ment to take the very rich re­sources out and use them,” Zi­m­b­ab­wean For­eign Min­is­ter Sim­barashe Mum­bengeg­wi said at the time.

One Chinese com­pany re­cently ruled out min­ing Zi­m­b­ab­we’s urani­um after deem­ing its de­pos­its too small to be com­mer­cially worth­while, Gilpin said. However, “a less risk-averse cus­tom­er might con­sider in­vest­ing in the de­pos­its,” he said.

Tehran might “see Zi­m­b­ab­we as a pos­sible part­ner in a secret ven­ture simply from the point of view that Mugabe faces dip­lo­mat­ic pres­sure from some of the same West­ern coun­tries that are now sanc­tion­ing Ir­an,” Hi­bbs said.

A Clin­ton-era U.S. am­bas­sad­or to Zi­m­b­ab­we said that poor eco­nom­ic policies and elec­tion prac­tices have kept Mugabe’s gov­ern­ment “in the in­ter­na­tion­al dog­house” for years.

Any Zi­m­b­ab­wean urani­um ship­ments to Ir­an would most likely be de­tec­ted at some point, land­ing Har­are in an even “deep­er in­ter­na­tion­al hole,” said John­nie Car­son, who stepped down in March from a four-year stint head­ing the U.S. State De­part­ment’s Afric­an Af­fairs Bur­eau.

The re­cent Times art­icle re­portedly promp­ted the State De­part­ment to cau­tion Mugabe’s gov­ern­ment against selling urani­um to Ir­an, warn­ing that such sales could vi­ol­ate a 7-year-old U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil sanc­tions res­ol­u­tion. That meas­ure could al­low a Se­cur­ity Coun­cil com­mit­tee to im­pose trade re­stric­tions and fin­an­cial pen­al­ties on “per­sons or en­tit­ies” found to be selling urani­um ore to Ir­an.

However, in­ter­na­tion­al dif­fer­ences over sanc­tions en­force­ment could bode poorly for that body’s fu­ture abil­ity to act on po­ten­tial vi­ol­a­tions, Patrick Clawson, re­search dir­ect­or for the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Policy, in­dic­ated by e-mail.

In ad­di­tion, glob­al con­dem­na­tion has not al­ways been enough in the past to de­ter Zi­m­b­ab­we from en­ga­ging in il­li­cit min­er­al deal­ings, ac­cord­ing to Peter Hain, a former Africa min­is­ter for the Brit­ish For­eign Of­fice.

“Zi­m­b­ab­we’s pre­cious metals trade needs to be reg­u­lated prop­erly,” the Labor Party law­maker said in a phone in­ter­view from the United King­dom. He said Zi­m­b­ab­we con­tin­ues to traffic in do­mest­ic­ally mined “blood dia­monds,” even though the United Na­tions de­nounced such trade years ago.

“I’m very con­cerned that they could eas­ily ex­port the urani­um to Ir­an, lift­ing two fin­gers at the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Brit­ish equi­val­ent of a middle-di­git in­sult in the United States.

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this art­icle should have stated that Zi­m­b­ab­we is loc­ated in south­ern Africa.

What We're Following See More »
A DARK CLOUD OVER TRUMP?
Snowstorm Could Impact Primary Turnout
2 days ago
THE LATEST

A snowstorm is supposed to hit New Hampshire today and “linger into Primary Tuesday.” GOP consultant Ron Kaufman said lower turnout should help candidates who have spent a lot of time in the state tending to retail politicking. Donald Trump “has acknowledged that he needs to step up his ground-game, and a heavy snowfall could depress his figures relative to more organized candidates.”

Source:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY
A Shake-Up in the Offing in the Clinton Camp?
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Anticipating a primary loss in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Hillary and Bill Clinton “are considering staffing and strategy changes” to their campaign. Sources tell Politico that the Clintons are likely to layer over top officials with experienced talent, rather than fire their staff en masse.

Source:
THE LAST ROUND OF NEW HAMPSHIRE POLLS
Trump Is Still Ahead, but Who’s in Second?
2 days ago
THE LATEST

We may not be talking about New Hampshire primary polls for another three-and-a-half years, so here goes:

  • American Research Group’s tracking poll has Donald Trump in the lead with 30% support, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich tying for second place at 16%. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton 53%-41%.
  • The 7 News/UMass Lowell tracking poll has Trump way out front with 34%, followed by Rubio and Ted Cruz with 13% apiece. Among the Democrats, Sanders is in front 56%-40%.
  • A Gravis poll puts Trump ahead with 28%, followed by Kasich with 17% and Rubio with 15%.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SECOND PLACE
CNN Calls the Primary for Sanders and Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

Well that didn’t take long. CNN has already declared Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump the winners of the New Hampshire primary, leaving the rest of the candidates to fight for the scraps. Five minutes later, the Associated Press echoed CNN’s call.

Source:
×