Iran Nearly Done Paving Over Suspect Military Grounds: Analysis

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Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Aug. 22, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

Ir­an has nearly fin­ished pav­ing over a mil­it­ary site that some ex­perts al­lege once hos­ted nuc­le­ar weapon-re­lated ex­per­i­ments, ac­cord­ing to a pho­to­graph­ic ana­lys­is re­leased on Thursday by a Wash­ing­ton think tank.

The In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency un­suc­cess­fully sought ac­cess to Ir­an’s Parchin fa­cil­ity in nearly a dozen meet­ings held with Tehran since Novem­ber 2011. The U.N. nuc­le­ar watch­dog or­gan­iz­a­tion had aired sus­pi­cions that a struc­ture based at this loc­a­tion was cap­able of fa­cil­it­at­ing nuc­le­ar-re­lated ex­plos­ives tests and sup­por­ted the de­vel­op­ment of a “neut­ron ini­ti­at­or” for ac­tiv­at­ing atom­ic det­on­a­tions.

“As­phalt­ing an en­tire area in this man­ner would make it very hard to take soil samples and likely be ef­fect­ive at cov­er­ing up en­vir­on­ment­al evid­ence of nuc­le­ar weapon­iz­a­tion-re­lated ex­per­i­ments,” the In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tion­al Se­cur­ity said in its as­sess­ment of satel­lite pho­tos taken of the site on Aug. 13.

Ir­an for years has denied in­ter­na­tion­al claims that it is pur­su­ing a nuc­le­ar-arms cap­ab­il­ity, and cer­tain spe­cial­ists have ques­tioned the U.N. agency’s ra­tionale for press­ing to vis­it the Parchin com­pound. The evid­ence be­hind that push — in­tel­li­gence gathered and fur­nished to the agency by IAEA mem­ber gov­ern­ments — re­mains con­fid­en­tial.

Ir­an’s con­struc­tion at Parchin would pre­vent IAEA in­vest­ig­at­ors from draw­ing firm con­clu­sions from any fu­ture in­spec­tion, so the Per­sian Gulf power “has lost an im­port­ant op­por­tun­ity” to dis­prove ac­cus­a­tions that it is at­tempt­ing to con­ceal something, former IAEA safe­guards chief Olli Heinon­en told the As­so­ci­ated Press for a Thursday re­port.

Ali Asghar Soltan­ieh on Wed­nes­day con­firmed that he would step down in less than two weeks as Tehran’s chief IAEA en­voy, mean­ing that any fu­ture talks on U.N. ac­cess to the base would be led by new of­fi­cials on each side, Re­u­ters re­por­ted. Her­man Nack­aerts, who has led the talks for the Vi­enna, Aus­tria-based or­gan­iz­a­tion as its cur­rent top safe­guards of­fi­cial, is set to leave his po­s­i­tion in Septem­ber.

An in­ter­na­tion­al-re­la­tions in­sider with IAEA ties iden­ti­fied Mah­moud Reza Saj­jadi, now Ir­an’s en­voy to Rus­sia, as a likely pick to suc­ceed Soltan­ieh, IT­AR-Tass re­por­ted.

Mean­while, a seni­or Is­raeli of­fi­cial this week fur­ther played down the con­sequences of a po­ten­tial at­tack on Ir­a­ni­an atom­ic sites.

“I sup­pose there would be a re­sponse of two or three days of mis­sile fire, per­haps even on Is­rael, [or] on Amer­ic­an bases in the Gulf. But I don’t think it would be more than that — very lim­ited dam­age,” Yuval Stein­itz — Is­raeli min­is­ter for in­ter­na­tion­al af­fairs, strategy and in­tel­li­gence — told the Times of Is­rael in an in­ter­view.

He urged NATO or the United States to threaten Ir­an with armed force if Tehran does not fall in­to line with U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil de­mands by a spe­cif­ic date. The 15-na­tion body has called in part for Ir­an to fully sus­pend its en­rich­ment of urani­um. However, Tehran ar­gues it leg­ally is en­titled to pur­sue that activ­ity, which can gen­er­ate fuel for ci­vil­ian use as well as bomb ma­ter­i­al.

Else­where, China this year vastly in­creased its pur­chases of “fuel oil” from Ir­an, a sub­stance not covered by U.S. eco­nom­ic pen­al­ties tar­get­ing Ir­a­ni­an ex­ports of un­re­fined pet­ro­leum, the Wall Street Journ­al re­por­ted on Wed­nes­day.

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