VIENNA-- Iran is circumventing international export bans on sensitive dual-use materials by smuggling graphite and a graphite compound that can be used to make conventional and nuclear weapons, an Iranian dissident and a senior diplomat said yesterday.
Graphite has many peaceful uses, including steel manufacture, but also can be used as a casing for molten weapons-grade uranium to fit it to nuclear warheads or to shield the cones of conventional missiles from heat.
With most countries adhering to international agreements banning the sale of such dual-use materials to Tehran, Iran has been forced to buy graphite on the black market, Iranian exile Alireza Jafarzadeh said, allegations confirmed by a senior diplomat familiar with Iran's covert nuclear activities.
Phone calls to Iranian diplomats seeking comment were not returned.
The disclosures were made as Iran's top nuclear negotiators prepared to meet early next week with the foreign ministers of France, Britain, and Germany, acting on behalf of the 25-nation European Union, for what could be a last-ditch attempt to persuade Tehran to agree to a long-term freeze of uranium enrichment.
While with the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Jafarzadeh disclosed information about two hidden nuclear sites in Iran in 2002 that helped uncover nearly two decades of covert Iranian atomic activity -- and sparked present fears that Tehran wants to build the bomb.
Much of the equipment, including centrifuges for uranium enrichment and other technology with possible weapons applications, was acquired on the nuclear black market.
Those implicated include Dutch businessman Henk Slebos, who is awaiting trial in the Netherlands on charges of importing banned material, including 100 pieces of graphite, as part of the clandestine smuggling network of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Jafarzadeh, whose organization was banned in the United States for alleged terrorist activity and who now runs Strategic Policy Consulting, a Washington-based think tank, said Iran was also smuggling and trying to manufacture a graphite-based substance called ceramic matrix composite. The heat-resistance compound is also used in missile technology.
He said he learned this from sources within Iran.
The diplomat, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position, said Iran also may be interested in acquiring specially heat-resistant ''nuclear-grade graphite" that can be used as moderators to slow the fission process in reactors generating energy. While Iran does not now have reactors using such moderators, it insists it has the future right to all aspects of peaceful nuclear technology.
Neither Jafarzadeh nor the diplomat could say how much graphite Iran had imported. But the diplomat said a graphite-moderated nuclear plant would require as many as 1,000 tons for a 250-megawatt reactor.