BEFORE he purchased large quantities of German equipment in Iraq's effort to manufacture an atomic bomb, Saddam Hussein had already acquired German equipment to produce weapons-grade uranium from Brazil. Now Brazil, which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has shifted its trade focus in the Middle East away from Iraq in an effort to sell nuclear and other defense-technology items to Iran.
Brazil's role in Iraq's nuclear program has received little publicity. Brazilian technicians worked on Saddam's French-designed Osirak nuclear reactor before it was destroyed by a 1981 Israeli air strike. United States and German press reports show nuclear equipment was provided to Brazil by Interatom, a subsidiary of the German electronics giant Siemens. Brazil diverted the equipment to Iraq's bomb builders in a deal that may not have violated German export controls but circumvented safeguards of the In ternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Siemens insists the technology was sold for peaceful use to Brazil's civilian nuclear-power program.
Under international pressure, Brazil signed an enhanced nuclear safeguards and inspections agreement with the IAEA last November. But before the ink on the treaty was dry, Brasilia put out the welcome mat for Soviet nuclear experts. According to the respected daily Folha de Sao Paulo, former Soviet nuclear specialists are now working at several Brazilian universities and government research centers.
The new agreement increases IAEA controls over Brazil's nuclear materials, but not over the technology used to develop them. Aided by ex-Soviet bomb builders, Brazil could become a major exporter of nuclear-weapons know-how. CIA Director Robert Gates voiced concern about this possible threat in his recent Senate testimony. The US has urged Brazil to enact a more responsible arms-sales policy. The loopholes in Brazil's export controls are big enough to drive a truck through. Before the Gulf war, Saddam di d just that: Trucks used to haul Scud missile launchers were exported from Brazil to Iraq.
Brazilian scientists working at home and in Iraq helped Saddam increase the distance of his Scud missiles, more than 500 of which remain in Iraq's inventory. Saddam's Army used Brazilian-made Astros rocket launchers and SS-60 rockets against allied forces during the Gulf war. As a result of these and other more recent deals, US officials continue to block the delivery of an IBM supercomputer to Brazil's state-owned aircraft manufacturer, Embraer.
ON the eve of the Gulf war, the Brazilian government was exporting sensitive defense technology to Iraq in exchange for oil. With Saddam under close international scrutiny, however, Brazil has tilted toward the fundamentalist government in Iran. Its "Operation Iran" seeks to win for Brazilian firms 10 percent of the contracts in Iran's $120 billion program to rebuild its infrastructure, which was devastated in the war of attrition with Iraq.
Infrastructure Minister Joao Santana visited Tehran late last year to promote Brazilian defense technology and discuss the sale of Angra III, the 1300 megawatt nuclear power reactor purchased as part of Brazil's controversial 1975 nuclear-cooperation agreement with West Germany. Mr. Santana's effort to transfer the Angra III reactor to Iran has created friction both with Brazil's Foreign Ministry and US officials.
The German weekly Der Spiegel has reported that relatives of Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani have set up a network of front companies in London to acquire sensitive military technology from Brazil and other suppliers.
In his Senate testimony, CIA Director Gates emphasized that Brazil has significant potential to furnish nuclear and other military technologies to customers in the developing world. Owing to a porous non-proliferation regime, more than a dozen developing countries no longer depend on industrial nations as their primary source of nuclear technology.
With Iran committed to developing its nuclear capability - and Brazil willing to sell - Washington and its allies must enact tougher international controls over the transfer of dual-use nuclear technology or bear the cost of maintaining global security in the face of a nonaligned nuclear cartel.