VIENNA, Austria – More than 20 firms – including at least one American company – have supplied rogue nations seeking nuclear arms, marking the first time a U.S. company has been linked to the black market network.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, who is heading a probe into the illicit sales, avoided specifics on the locations of the companies Friday.
But a senior diplomat said at least one was in the United States – the first time in five months of investigations by the U.N. nuclear agency that an American company has been implicated in the black market network headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Kahn.
The diplomat said Syria and Saudi Arabia were being investigated as possible buyer nations, in addition to Iraq, Iran, Libya and North Korea – countries already known to have bought from or been in contact with the clandestine network.
The diplomat said that beyond suspicions prompting a continuing investigation, “there has been no proof” that would warrant Syria and Saudi Arabia being reported to the IAEA board of governors.
Syria has been cited by the United States as trying to acquire the technology to make nuclear weapons, including centrifuges needed to enrich uranium, a charge Damascus denies.
Saudi Arabia has denied news reports that it agreed to supply Pakistan with oil in exchange for nuclear know-how as a hedge against fears that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.
Of the companies that have supplied the nuclear black market, ElBaradei would give no details beyond saying they were in “over 20 countries, some of them in North America.”
During a lecture in Israel on Thursday, ElBaradei described the prospect of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons or the means to make them through the illicit network as his “No. 1 nightmare.” Al-Qaida or groups linked to the terror network have boasted of such capabilities or warned they would soon have them.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei is leading a probe of nuclear supply sales.