Iran has granted UN nuclear inspectors access to a high-security military site as part of efforts to avoid being brought before the UN Security Council, diplomats said today.
The diplomats said experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency were allowed to revisit the Parchin site as they try to establish whether Tehran has a secret nuclear weapons programme.
Parchin has been linked by the US and other nations to alleged experiments linked to nuclear arms. The IAEA has been trying for months to follow up on a previous visit in January for further checks for radioactivity in buildings and areas within the sprawling military complex.
The previous visit – which was closely controlled by authorities – revealed no such traces.
But one of the diplomats – who like the others demanded anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media about the sensitive investigation – said that over the past few days IAEA inspectors “gained access to buildings” previously out of bounds to them.
The diplomat, who is close to the agency, said samples were being taken from objects in the buildings and would be analysed at IAEA laboratories.
If the samples reveal minute amounts of radioactivity, they would strengthen suspicions of nuclear-related work at Parchin.
Because Parchin is run by the country’s armed forces, that would weaken Iranian arguments that its nuclear programmes are strictly non-military. That, in turn, would strengthen sentiment that Tehran be referred to the UN Security Council for breaching the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as early as November 24, when the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors has scheduled its next meeting.
US intelligence officials said last year that a specially secured site on the Parchin complex, about 20 miles southeast of Tehran, may be used in research on nuclear arms, specifically in making high-explosive components for use in such weapons.
The IAEA has not found any firm evidence to challenge Iranian assertions that its military is not involved nuclear activities.
But an IAEA report a year ago expressed concern about published intelligence and media reports “relating to dual use equipment and materials which have applications ... in the nuclear military area.” Diplomats said that phrasing alluded to Parchin.
Before the next board meeting, IAEA inspectors also hope to be allowed to visit Lavizan-Shian, suspected of being the repository of equipment bought by its military that could be used in a nuclear weapons programme.
The US State Department last year said Lavizan-Shian’s buildings had been completely dismantled and topsoil had been removed from the site in attempts to hide nuclear-weapons related experiments. Agency officials subsequently confirmed that the site had been razed, but Iran said work at the site, on the outskirts of Tehran, was part of construction unrelated to military or nuclear matters.
With the next IAEA board meeting only weeks away, Iran is under increasing pressure to show it is co-operating with a more than three-year IAEA probe of nearly 18 years of suspected clandestine nuclear activities as it tries to derail a US-backed European push to report it to the Security Council.
Council members Russia and China – who also sit on the IAEA board – are opposed to such a move. But calls last week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” have strengthened the US-European hand by focusing on concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Russia was among the dozens of nations protesting at his statements.