Iran Says It's Not Obliged to Give Inspectors Access to Military Sites

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

( - Amid continuing concerns about just how much a European-brokered agreement on Iran's nuclear program has achieved, Tehran on Sunday shrugged off reports saying it has denied the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog access to two military sites.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran was not obliged to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to visit military sites.

Asefi would not say directly whether it would allow agency officials to visit the two military sites, located at the Parchin military base and at a facility in Lavisan.

The New York Times last week quoted IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei as saying that he had repeatedly asked Iran for access to the two sites, without success.

The paper said diplomats based their suspicions on "dual use" equipment procurement records and satellite photographs showing testing of high explosives at the sites.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled Iranian opposition group, last month accused Tehran of secretly enriching uranium for nuclear weapons at Lavisan.

The NCRI, which the State Department has designated a foreign terrorist organization, said the site comprised a nuclear project as well as research facilities for chemical and biological warfare.

Iran recently reached an agreement with Britain, France and Germany to suspend its uranium enrichment program temporarily. As a result, the IAEA board last week decided not to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, where it could have faced sanctions.

But the agreement does not oblige Iran to allow unrestricted IAEA access to military sites.

Asefi told a press briefing Sunday that that Washington was trying to create new pressure against Iran by making the claims about the two sites.

This was not unexpected, Asefi said, attributing the claims to a realization by the U.S. that it had failed to get international support for its attempt to create a crisis and have Iran referred to the Security Council.

Asked whether Iran would allow IAEA inspectors access to military sites, Asefi replied: "It is not a matter of unlimited commitments and unlimited inspections."

"We will act according to the NPT [the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and in accordance with our commitments and responsibilities."

The NPT's safeguards agreements mandate the IAEA to ensure that all nuclear material in a signatory country is declared, and that none is being used to build nuclear weapons.

An "additional protocol" aims to tighten loopholes in the NPT and allows inspectors to visit nuclear facilities at short notice. Even so, the protocol only provides the IAEA with limited powers of inspection. Iran has signed the protocol but has yet to ratify it.

The U.S. suspects that Iran has ambitions to be a nuclear weapons power, while Tehran insists that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful, power-generation purposes. Washington has not ruled out taking the matter to the Security Council despite the IAEA board resolution.

Since reaching the agreement with the European trio, Iran has emphasized that its uranium-enrichment suspension is only temporary. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential figure who may contest presidential elections next year, reiterated that stance on Friday, saying the suspension would last no more than six months.

Meanwhile another concern about Iran was raised Sunday in a report in the London Telegraph, which said the IAEA had changed its original report on Iran's compliance to drop a claim that Tehran had bought "huge amounts" of beryllium, a toxic metal used in nuclear reactors.

The Telegraph said it had seen an earlier draft of the U.N. agency's report which included the claim. But it was dropped in the final version.

Iran itself has denied that it ever obtained beryllium.

An IAEA spokeswoman was quoted as confirming the claim had indeed been dropped, but saying the change was insignificant.

Amir Taheri, a former Iranian newspaper editor and prominent Middle East commentator, wrote in the Arab News on Saturday that in its dealings with Iran the EU trio was playing a "charade."

"Everyone knows that the current Iranian leaders have decided to develop a nuclear weapons capacity as part of the National Defense Doctrine that they put place in the mid-1990s," Taheri wrote.

"My guess is that the EU knows that Tehran is determined to obtain a nuclear weapons capacity," he said. "The EU must also know that Tehran will not abandon a key element of its defense doctrine to please powers that it regards as 'satanic'."

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow