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Canadian Official: Iran Sought Nuke Components; Sound Familiar?

(AP / CBS)
Iran has tried to acquire materials for a nuclear weapon in Canada, according to a top official in Canada's Border Services Agency.

George Webb, head of the agency's Counter Proliferation Section, says customs officers have seized centrifuge parts (centrifuges are used to enrich uranium) and electronic components for bombs and guidance systems.

Webb made the claims in a story published Thursday in Canada's National Post.

"Anything to do with a nuclear program [is] going to Iran," Webb said in the article.

Webb said that Iran is acquiring the components through "procurement rings" involving front companies and unprincipled entrepreneurs. The components move along elaborate paths through Vancouver, Hong Kong, and particularly the United Arab Emirates, where Webb says the Iranian government is controlling a port for the purpose of clandestinely moving such goods.

Webb's allegations come as the U.S., Britain, France and other western countries are expressing alarm over a recently-declared nuclear facility in Iran and ratcheting up threats of harsh retaliation against Iran should it pursue a nuclear weapon.

The article, however, offers nothing to corroborate Webb's claims and reports them without even a hint of skepticism, except to say that "The devices can be used in peaceful nuclear plants but are also required to produce nuclear weapons" and to note that there have been few arrests and no convictions in connection with Webb's far-reaching claims.

But skepticism is merited. The government claims and breathless media reporting – without adequate evidence – that Iran is a grave and looming threat is reminiscent of the same claims and media coverage in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as several commentators have pointed out. Remember Saddam Hussein's horde of yellowcake uranium?

"In 2002, it seemed utterly naïve to believe Saddam didn't have a program," Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick told the New York Times in an article analyzing those parallels. The article continues: "Now the notion that Iran is not racing to build a bomb is similarly excluded from serious discussion, he said."

Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who was right about Iraq, adds, "Simply put, Iran is no closer to producing a hypothetical nuclear weapon today than it was prior to Obama's announcement." (It's worth noting that the U.S. has known about the nuclear facility at Qom for years, although its existence is being reported as a revelation.)

In other words, whether Iran is acquiring nuclear gizmos through Canada at all – and if so, whether for peaceful purposes or for weapons – remains to be seen.

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