11 February 2004

New Delhi rejects charge Indian scientists might have leaked N-secrets

11 February 2004
The Times of India

New Delhi rejects charge Indian scientists might have leaked N-secrets


NEW DELHI: It's only the cyber equivalent of a whisper campaign so far but officials here feel reports carried on a number of Pakistani websites linking a top former Indian scientist with Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme are part of psy-ops — or 'psychological operations' — to equate India with Pakistan on the proliferation front.

The man at the centre of the controversy is Dr Y S R Prasad, former CMD of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL). After he retired from NPCIL in 2000, Prasad made at least two visits to Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility. But he firmly denies there was anything improper or clandestine in his visits.

"Most of the time, I went there as an expert of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," he told The Times of India. Asked about any other visit he undertook, he said this was in the nature of a follow-up to the technical work he had done as part of IAEA panels.

Asked whether Prasad's role in Bushehr has ever been examined by the IAEA— as some Pakistani news reports are alleging —the agency's spokesman, Mark Gwozdecky, would only say: "For the IAEA, the important thing is obtaining information that helps us to complete our work in Iran and Libya... We have been in contact with and receiving the cooperation of a number of foreign governments of countries which are implicated in one way or another in the black market."

Reuters on Tuesday reported that the countries whose citizens or companies are being probed by the IAEA are Germany, Holland, Belgium, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, South Africa, Japan, Dubai, Malaysia, the US, Spain, Russia, China and Pakistan.

R Chidambaram, principal scientific adviser to the government and a former head of the Atomic Energy Commission, brushed aside reports that Prasad had done anything untoward. "He originally went to Iran as part of an IAEA assignment. Later, he went back to Bushehr under a private contract with the Iranians," he told this reporter. Asked whether the government knew in advance about the private contract, Chidambaram merely said, "He came back when we wanted."

Bushehr is a "fully safeguarded" facility. Most of the information that has surfaced about a covert Iranian effort on the gas centrifuge enrichment front pertains to the facility at Natanz.

MEA officials say Prasad is being unfairly vilified. "The IAEA has a technical cooperation (TC) programme approved by its board of governors for countries which have signed safeguards agreements. Normally experts are drawn from different countries. That is how Dr Prasad went to Iran," an MEA official said.

Although India has excellent relations with Iran, the US has frowned upon any cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear technology between the two countries. In the early 1990s, the US prevailed upon India to scrap a deal to provide Iran with an experimental 10 MW reactor at Moallem Kaleyah, northwest of Teheran. And it is likely US pressure was exerted to get Prasad extracted from Bushehr.

Last December, when external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha was 'ambushed' by Iranian reporters into saying "most certainly between Iran and India (in the peaceful nuclear energy field), there would be collaboration, there is collaboration", the Indian embassy in Teheran rushed to clarify that there was in fact no collaboration.

"Cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy with Iran has only been under the IAEA Technical Coopera- tion programme", the embassy said in a press release. "There is no existing bilateral nuclear cooperation with Iran, nor is there any proposal for initiating such cooperation."

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