The Daily Telegraph - Dozens of Iranian students have been admitted to British universities to study nuclear physics and other branches of science and engineering that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction.

The Daily Telegraph

By James Kirkup, Political Correspondent

Dozens of Iranian students have been admitted to British universities to study nuclear physics and other branches of science and engineering that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction.

The revelation has raised questions about the consistency of government policy on Iran, whose government Britain is trying to prevent from developing nuclear weapons.

The prospect of Britain educating a future generation of Iranian nuclear scientists threatens to embarrass British ministers ahead of international talks in London to send a united message to Tehran on its nuclear programme.

Figures obtained by the Conservatives show that this year, 60 Iranian nationals have been granted places at British colleges to carry out advanced research work in subjects covering nuclear physics and nuclear engineering. Another 30 Iranian nationals were listed as doing post-graduate work in subjects considered "proliferation sensitive" by British intelligence agencies.

The West is stepping up pressure on Tehran over its continuing nuclear technology programme. The US last week imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend its nuclear work. European governments are considering tougher sanctions, and Gordon Brown last week told MPs he is prepared to back a harder line with Iran.

Along with France, Russia, China, Germany and the US, Britain will this week try again to hammer out a common position on Iran that could lead to stronger United Nations sanctions on Iran.

Divisions between Europe and the US, and objections from Moscow and Beijing have prevented a united front. But senior diplomats from the six nations are expected to meet in London as early as Friday to try again.

Britain has faced earlier embarrassments over foreign students at UK universities using their skills for hostile regimes. Rihab Taha, the microbiologist known as Dr Germ in Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime, studied at the at the University of East Anglia.

The information on the Iranian students in Britain was obtained by David Willetts, the Conservative higher education spokesman.

Mr Willetts yesterday wrote to John Denham, the Universities Secretary: "How many Iranian nationals have been admitted to British universities for proliferation-sensitive courses since 2000? Of these students, how many were resident in the EU before they applied? How many have returned to Iran? Were these Iranian nationals properly security-cleared in advance? How many applications from Iranian students seeking to study in the UK have been rejected on security grounds?"

A Foreign Office spokesman said applications to come to Britain to study sensitive subjects could be subjected to greater scrutiny.

"We are rigorously checking people at the moment and we are planning an even more rigorous system."