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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The next crisis up for the United Nations may involve Iran. Tomorrow is the deadline for Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities or face possible sanctions. Iran appears untroubled. Just a few days ago, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated a heavy water production plant which is capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. At the time, the president said, quote, we are not a threat to anybody.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

To sort through why the international community believes Iran is possibly pursuing nuclear weapons, we turn to David Kay. He led the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after the U.S. invasion and was the chief nuclear weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency after the first Gulf War.

Mr. DAVID KAY (Former Chief Nuclear Weapons Inspector, International Atomic Energy Agency): You know that what you do to have a peaceful program is essentially the preliminary steps to having a nuclear weapon. So the essential question to be asked is: are they moving - in fact moving towards nuclear weapons, or do they indeed just have a peaceful program?

Now, the evidence that goes towards proving they probably have a weapons objective in mind is the fact that they now admit that they cheated on their non-proliferation obligations for 18 years and did not report the enrichment efforts, as well as a number of other efforts, to the IAEA as required; and the fact that the IAEA says today there still are gaps and unsatisfactory explanations from the Iranians about their previous activities.

MONTAGNE: So let's talk about some of what might be called circumstantial evidence. This week's inauguration of a heavy water nuclear reactor - break that down for us.

Mr. KAY: Oh, a heavy water reactor allows the Iranians to use natural uranium that they find in Iran - they don't have to import it from anyone else - and come out with plutonium that is ideal, in fact almost essential, for a nuclear warhead that would fly on a missile. Now, it can also be used for other purposes, research purposes.

MONTAGNE: And then they have something that's sort of well known but not very easily scrutinized, and that is a nuclear facility that they say is for peaceful purposes. The one I'm thinking of is a place called Natanz outside of Tehran a couple a hundred miles.

Mr. KAY: Yeah, Natanz is - the Iranians declare, and the IAEA has confirmed in broad measure - is a enrichment facility using centrifuges. Now, what is still in dispute is exactly where they are in terms of their centrifuge development.

The Iranians claim they're an early generation. There's a lot of evidence the IAEA has collected that indicates it in fact may be what is called a P2 centrifuge, a much more efficient one, and would produce a lot more enriched uranium.

MONTAGNE: Now before the Iraq War, the Bush administration presented evidence that it said was hard evidence of Iraq trying to build a nuclear weapon. Has the administration presented anything that at least it claimed was hard evidence?

Mr. KAY: Well, the administration has talked around what they believe is - or present as hard evidence of the Iranian intention to go ahead with a program. They bear a heavy burden, because in Iraq they were so wrong about what they presented and the actual facts on the ground as discovered after the war.

Much of the evidence presented with regard to Iran is very much of the same character as what was available with regard to Iraq before the war.

MONTAGNE: One last question. After conducting inspections in Iraq and now viewing the situation in Iran, what sort of evidence would convince you that Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon?

Mr. KAY: Well, this is essentially - the evidence I would need to be absolutely a hundred percent sure is things like shaping uranium metal into the (unintelligible) shapes you use, high explosive testing of the lenses that are used to bring a warhead together at the critical moment of detonation, work on some of the exotic materials that are associated with a warhead. These are things that are very hard to observe from the outside, relatively easily hidden.

I would also have to have evidence that they are enriching to the high-enriched level as opposed to the four to five percent level that you will find associated with peaceful fuel.

All of these things, there's not much evidence that any of that's occurring.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. KAY: Happy to talk to you.

MONTAGNE: David Kay is a former chief nuclear weapons inspector for the IAEA. He's now senior research fellow at the Potomac Institute.

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