President Bush has issued a statement on “Ten Years of Democracy in South Africa,” conveniently ignoring the fact that South African President Thabo Mbeki is a Marxist who has surrounded himself with followers of radical Islam. The other curious omission is that while the president complimented “South Africa’s commitment to progress at home and around the world,” evidence is emerging that South Africa has played a role in nuclear weapons proliferation, including to Iran. The evidence is contained in a hot new book, Iran’s Nuclear Option: Tehran’s Quest for the Atom Bomb, by journalist Al Venter.
Some people forget that the white government of South Africa produced 6 atomic bombs. Those were reportedly destroyed when a black majority government took over. But remnants of South Africa’s nuclear program remained. The white government had cooperated with Israel but that cooperation was terminated after Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa. That’s apparently when the Iranian mullahs stepped in.
Venter, an international correspondent for nearly 30 years, was presented with an ethical dilemma in 1997 when he met with Dr. Waldo Stumpf, head of South Africa’s nuclear program. He says Stumph told him a story-off the record-about the atomic energy minister for Iran arriving with a shopping list of nuclear materials for a nuclear bomb. At the time, Venter was working for the Jane’s Information Group. He was shocked by the story of Iran’s search for a nuclear bomb but was constrained in telling it because it had been given to him off the record. He considered it a story that could change the course of history. “The world has a right to know,” he concluded.
After consulting with his editor, who said it was a matter of conscience, Venter went public with an article in Jane’s International Defense Review, causing an international sensation. Newspapers in France and Britain picked up the story and Venter was denounced in South Africa. Another journalist confirmed the story, but Nelson Mandela, then South African president, assured the Clinton Administration that no such meeting had taken place. On December 4, 1997, then-State Department spokesman James Rubin accepted the South African explanation and expressed “high confidence” in South Africa’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. Venter says that if his story had been taken more seriously back then, in 1997, the problems we are facing in Iran today might have been avoided. But the Clinton Administration was determined to give South Africa a pass. And it looks like the Bush Administration is continuing the same policy, even while raising the alarm about the Iranian nuclear program.
Venter says that South Africa under Mandela and now Mbeki is actively assisting the Iranian nuclear program. His book contains examples of such cooperation, such as assistance to Iran by South African scientists and arms companies. And he says that Mbeki, like Mandela, has surrounded himself with followers of radical Islam who see the U.S. as the main enemy.
The Washington Post and New York Times have recently run stories about an Iranian nuclear connection to Pakistan’s top nuclear expert, A. Q. Khan, dating back to 1987. As the Times indicated, however, Iran appears to have taken up only parts of the deal offered by the Khan network. It looks like Iran had another place to turn-South Africa.