New satellite imagery released by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) shows some changes at a military site of great interest to the UN nuclear watchdog.
The watchdog, or IAEA, suspects that Iran carried out explosives tests at the Parchin site back in the early part of the decade, tests consistent with the construction of a nuclear weapon. Iran denies that its nuclear program has a military dimension, but it will not let inspectors into Parchin.
In a satellite photo from August released by ISIS, visible is the structure where the explosives tests were believed to have been carried out, covered by a tarpaulin. In a September photograph, released today, the tarpaulin is off. The photograph is not evidence of an explosives test, but it is suspicious, given the IAEA has been asking for access to Parchin, and Iran will not let its inspectors in.
According to ISIS, the activity at Parchin has been going on for months. “It is difficult to determine the scope and nature of the ongoing activity. Alterations to this site, for all intents and purposes, have to be seen as clean-up operations with the intent to degrade or eliminate the IAEA’s ability to examine the site.”
David Albright, head of ISIS, says that given the tests took place so long ago, the Iranians would have had plenty of time to sanitize the site, making the recent flurry of activity all the more curious.
Yesterday, speaking at Chatham House in London, Yukiya Amano, the director general of the IAEA, noted that there has been intensive activity at the site, but Parchin is not the only problem.
“We have identified 12 areas that we need clarification. We cannot draw conclusions at this stage, but it is very obvious for us: We need to seek clarification from Iran, and as Iran continues to say that all the activities are of a peaceful purpose, it should be in the interest of Iran itself.”
Parchin is one of those 12 areas. The others include issues about procurement of materials that could be used for a nuclear weapon, documents about warhead design, and various other experiments believed to have gone on, most of them many years back, consistent with nuclear weapons work.
Amano and his inspectors have had many discussions with their Iranian counterparts to come up with a way to get those questions answered.
They agreed on some sort of formula, but the Iranians now are refusing to go forward.
Amano was asked how long the world has to get the answers it needs. He would not be drawn, saying there were all sorts of different estimates and that it is not his job to do those sorts of calculations.
Meanwhile, at ISIS, officials are concerned that at least the story of what happened at Parchin will never be known. The text accompanying the photographs states, “It is increasingly difficult to believe that an IAEA visit will yield any significant breakthrough in the inspectors’ efforts to find answers to the military dimensions of Iran’s program.”