Amid international sanctions designed to block its efforts to acquire advanced weapons technology, Iran has been secretly producing aluminum powder for use in its missile program, an investigative report published Wednesday by the Reuters news agency claimed.
According to the report, based on testimony from a former Iranian government official and documents he shared with Reuters, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has for the past five years been running a facility to produce the military-grade material in the northeastern North Khorasan province, near the country’s largest deposit of bauxite rock.
Produced from bauxite, aluminum powder is a central ingredient in solid-fuel propellants used for launching missiles.
Iran has been accused of advancing its nuclear-capable ballistic missile program in violation of the 2015 accord with world powers that limited its nuclear program in exchange for economic benefits. Tehran has denied violating the agreement, claiming it has no interest in nuclear weapons.
According to experts quoted by Reuters, using aluminum powder to help fuel missiles may allow Iran to sidestep certain limitations on missile production still in place under the deal.
Speaking to Reuters from exile in France, former senior Iranian official Amir Moghadam — who from 2013 until 2018 was head of public relations and the parliamentary affairs envoy in Iran’s Office of the Vice President for Executive Affairs — said that he visited the facility twice and that production of aluminum powder was continuing when he left Iran in 2018.
He also provided “more than a dozen documents relating to the aluminum powder project and people involved, dating from 2011 to 2018,” the report said.
In one 2017 letter addressed to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Tehrani Moghadam (no relation to Amir Moghadam), a Revolutionary Guards commander whose brother has been called the father of Iran’s missile program, described the facility as a “project to produce missile fuel from metal powder” and said it played a significant role in “improving the country’s self-sufficiency in production of solid fuel for missiles.”
The Guard, which operates its own military infrastructure parallel to Iran’s regular armed forces, is a hard-line force answerable only to Khamenei.
In response to questions about the facility from Reuters, Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York, said: “We have no information on these claims and on the authenticity of documents.
“We should reiterate that Iran has never had any intention to produce any nuclear warheads or missiles,” Miryousefi added.
The revelation of the aluminum powder production comes as Iran has abandoned limitations of the tattered nuclear deal that US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from in 2018. Tehran has since sought for other signatories to the deal — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China, which have been struggling to save the accord — to increase economic incentives to make up for the hard-hitting sanctions imposed by Washington after the US withdrawal.
Responding to the claims and suggesting they could spur further sanctions, a spokesman for the US Treasury said it “takes any reports of potentially sanctionable conduct seriously, and while we do not comment on possible investigations, we are committed to targeting those persons who support the Iranian regime and their malign activities around the world within our authorities.”
Jose Luis Diaz, spokesman for the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said “the Security Council has not clarified whether the ability of Iran to produce aluminum powder for use as a missile propellant is inconsistent with the restrictive measures.”
He added that the material can also be used in propellants of missiles or rockets that aren’t designed to deliver nuclear weapons.