Diplomacy

Nuclear Expert: Iran’s Denial of Parchin Construction Evidence Undermines Nuclear Deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s angry denial of accusations that Iran is sanitizing the Parchin military site to remove evidence of nuclear work is “an assault on the integrity and prospects of the nuclear deal,” David Albright, the founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a leading nonproliferation think tank, wrote in an op-ed today in The Washington Post.

Last week, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin of Bloomberg View reported that the United States intelligence community had informed legislators that Iran was sanitizing the military site at Parchin, where Iran is suspected of having conducted experiments on detonators for nuclear bombs, ahead of possible inspections. This information was confirmed in a report (.pdf) by Albright’s institute, which studied commercial satellite imagery of the site.

Over the weekend, however, Zarif dismissed the charges, calling them “lies” and insisting that the activity was related to “road construction.”

In his op-ed, Albright dismissed Zarif’s claims, pointing out that neither his organization nor the American intelligence community are opposed to the deal, and wrote that concern within the international community is growing over whether inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have sufficient access.

It would be irresponsible not to worry about reports that suggest that Iran could be again sanitizing the site to thwart environmental sampling that could reveal past nuclear weapons activities there. This concern is further heightened because Iran has demanded to do this sampling itself instead of letting the IAEA do it. Such an arrangement is unprecedented and risky, and will be even more so if Iran continues to sanitize the site. In the cases of the Iranian Kalaye Electric site and the North Korean plutonium separation plant at Yongbyon, the success of sampling that showed undeclared activities depended on samples being taken at non-obvious locations identified during previous IAEA visits inside buildings. The IAEA will not be able to visit Parchin until after the samples are taken, and it remains doubtful that the inspectors will be able to take additional samples. …

Iran’s reaction shows that it may be drawing a line at Parchin. Resolving the Parchin issue is central to the IAEA’s effort to resolve concerns about Iran’s past work on nuclear weapons by the end of the year, but Parchin is not the only site and activity involved in this crucial issue. The IAEA needs to visit other sites and interview a range of scientists and officials. Instead of allowing this needed access, Iran appears to be continuing its policy of total denial, stating that the concerns are merely Western falsifications and fantasies. The United States recently reasserted that it believes Iran had a nuclear weapons program and stated that it knows a considerable amount about it. So, if Iran sticks to its strategy, one can expect an impasse that includes Iran refusing to allow the IAEA the access it needs to sites and scientists within the coming months.

American officials have said that Iran needs to address its past nuclear weapons work, Iran’s reaction to the Parchin revelations suggests “that its recent actions are the start of such a reinterpretation of the agreement.”

Consequently, Albright recommended that “The United States and Congress should clearly and publicly confirm, and Congress should support with legislation, that if Iran does not address the IAEA’s concerns about the past military dimensions of its nuclear programs, U.S. sanctions will not be lifted. To do otherwise is to make a mockery of the nuclear deal.”

Suspected nuclear weapons research at Parchin has long been a point of contention between Iran and the IAEA, which has sought a full accounting of the scope of Iran’s nuclear research. Iran has, on a number of occasions, offered to allow inspectors into the relevant sections of Parchin, only to renege.

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