Rumsfeld supports bombs to target Iran sites

Sydney Morning Herald

February 3, 2005


The Pentagon wants to revive a controversial program to build nuclear warheads capable of penetrating hardened underground targets such as Iran's covert nuclear facilities. A leaked memo from the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to the Energy Department proposed funding for the scheme to begin next year. "You can count on my support for your efforts to revitalise the nuclear-weapons infrastructure and to complete the RNEP [robust nuclear earth penetrator] study," Mr Rumsfeld wrote in a memo seen by the Washington Post. An official from the Energy Department said on Monday that $US10.3 million ($13.3 million) to restart that study is expected to be included in the Bush Administration's budget, which is to be released next week. The memo leak seems certain to trigger a major row with Congress, which eliminated the scheme from the budget last year. That decision was made at the behest of Republican legislators angered by estimates suggesting the program would cost more than $US500 million. The Bush Administration has long emphasised the scheme is merely a question of research and that Congress would have to approve the production of such weapons. AdvertisementAdvertisement Democrats also were outraged, arguing that programs to improve nuclear weapons made their use more likely and undermined efforts by the US to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in other countries. The Arms Control Association, a pressure group that has opposed the bunker-buster scheme, said: "The Administration is missing a key opportunity to make good on the congressional decision last year ... it sends the wrong signal to the international community on the US approach on non-proliferation." Opponents of the proposed new weapon have argued that sealing off underground facilities could be done as well with smart, precision-guided conventional weapons, a position supported in 2003 by Admiral James Ellis, then head of the US Strategic Command. The US military has been studying bunker-busting weapons with renewed vigour since the September 11 attacks. Osama bin Laden is believed to favour underground caves as a hiding place and used the Tora Bora network in the mountains of Afghanistan when he fled US-led forces in late 2001. . North Korea has reprocessed 8000 spent fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium - potentially enough material to produce six atomic weapons - and appears to have exported nuclear material to Libya, the US informed its Asian allies, Japan, South Korea and China. The nuclear material that North Korea may have exported to Libya was uranium hexafluoride which can be enriched into weapons-grade material if it is fed into nuclear centrifuges. The Telegraph, London; The Washington Post and The New York Times

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