An individual from Sierra Leone is accused of attempting to transfer 1,000 metric tons of powdered uranium "yellowcake" to U.S. operatives disguised as would-be traffickers to Iran, Reuters reported on Friday.
After authorities detained Patrick Campbell on Wednesday at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, the 33-year-old allegedly confessed to discussing the possible deal, federal attorneys said in a court filing. He had a small amount of uranium hidden in his baggage at the time of his detention, according to the document.
A federal judge could impose on Campbell a maximum of $1 million in penalties and two decades' imprisonment if he is found guilty of charges including violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, which Washington suspects aims to develop a nuclear arms capacity under the guise of a peaceful atomic energy program.
Mined uranium is suited for conversion into yellowcake, which in turn can yield uranium hexafluoride suited for enrichment into material for civilian purposes or nuclear weapons.
Iran's recently confirmed top diplomat has said "the possession of nuclear arms doesn't conform with the interests of the country and threatens the security of Iran," Agence France-Presse reported on Friday.
"We will show the world that there is no threat from Iran," Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in comments reported by Iran's Fars News Agency.
He suggested, though, that "Western leaders have not understood" the bottom line of President Hassan Rouhani's victory at the polls in June.
"They think the government will waive [Iran's atomic] rights," Zarif said. "The United States and European countries must understand that the Iranian people will not give up their rights and no government can afford to do it.