Dutch university bans Iranian students

Thursday, January 3, 2008

By Ruben Temming*


Iranian students are not welcome at the Technical University Twente in the town of Enschede. At the request of the Education Ministry and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the university has agreed not to admit any Iranian students. The government fears that Iranian students and workers would steal sensitive nuclear information to help their government develop nuclear weapons. The university's decision is the direct result of a 2006 UN resolution calling on member states to prevent Iran from gaining access to nuclear knowledge.

The UN has been concerned about the Iranian nuclear research programme for some time. The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, says there is no evidence that Iran is developing its own nuclear weapon. However, at the same time Iran is accused of not providing sufficient information on its uranium enrichment programme.

The most recent US intelligence report on Iran also concludes that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear arms programme, but it does accuse Iran of withholding information. Tehran insists that its enrichment programme is intended exclusively for domestic production of the fuel rods needed for a nuclear power plant currently under construction.

Twente University is allowed to admit Iranian students on condition it guarantees they will not have access to nuclear information, a guarantee the university says it is unable to give. So far, three Iranian students have been refused. Iranians who want to study psychology would also be rejected. A spokesperson says students are free to wander around the campus, and 24/7 surveillance would be impossible. Iranian students already studying at Twente will be allowed to complete their studies.

Twente is the first technical university in the Netherlands to introduce such strict measures. The Delft Technical University says it first considers the subject that the applicant wants to study. In other words, Delft does not reject Iranian students on principle. The Eindhoven Technical University refuses to comment and refers all inquiries to the foreign affairs ministry.

The Netherlands played a pivotal role in one of the 20th century’s biggest nuclear spying operations. Pakistani nuclear physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan obtained his doctors degree at the Delft technical university in 1967, and worked at the Physical Dynamic Research laboratory from 1972 until 1975. It was there that Mr Khan acquired knowledge of enriching uranium via the ultra centrifuge process, a method that is still in use today. He suddenly disappeared in 1975, only to reappear in 1976 as the leader of the Pakistani nuclear weapons research programme. In 2004, Pakistan announced that Mr Khan had sold nuclear information to Libya, Iran and North Korea. In doing so, Mr Khan was assisted by his Dutch business partner Henk Sleebos, who, years later, was handed a prison sentence for his illegal activities.

Former Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers says the then Dutch government was aware of Abdul Qadeer Khan's clandestine activities. Reportedly, he was not arrested at the request of the US intelligence service, the CIA, which wanted to gain insight in the network that the Pakistani scientist was a member of.

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