Iran Envoy: No Inspectors in Parchin; Even U.S. Officials Agree it’s a Conventional Military Site

By Patrick Goodenough | September 9, 2015 | 12:35am EDT
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Yukiya Amano in Vienna. The IAEA has been tasked to verify and monitor Iran’s overall implementation of the nuclear agreement. (Photo: IAEA)

( – Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) declared this week that no international inspectors will be allowed into a military base where covert nuclear weapons work is suspected to have taken place – and in doing so turned to the Obama administration for backup.

“Even U.S. officials have acknowledged” that Parchin is a standard military base, not a nuclear facility, Iran’s Tasnim state news agency quoted Reza Najafi as saying in Vienna.

An IAEA report last month said there were signs of new construction work at Parchin in recent months. It repeated the agency’s concerns that work carried out there since 2012 is “likely to have undermined the agency’s ability to conduct effective verification” at the site.

But when asked about that report State Department spokesman John Kirby said on Aug. 27, “I think it’s important to remember that when you’re talking about a site like Parchin, you’re talking about a conventional military site, not a nuclear site. So there wouldn’t be any IAEA or other restrictions on new construction at that site, were they to occur.”

Alluding to Kirby’s remark, Najafi told Iran’s state-funded Press TV on Monday, “Parchin is a conventional military site. The construction there is normal and even it was indeed confirmed by some officials from the United States that [the] Parchin site and the activities there are something normal and it doesn’t have any relevance to the IAEA work.”

“Of course, this is a military site and Iran will not let any inspector go there,” he added.

As part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement reached between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers, the IAEA is meant to resolve outstanding concerns about the “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of Iran’s nuclear energy program – that is, past and possibly ongoing activities that have possible applications for the development of a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA must certify by December 15 that those concerns have been resolved, and until it does so, sanctions against Tehran may not be eased.

Parchin is a key PMD location, since the IAEA believes that activities there in past years included explosive tests possibly linked to nuclear warhead development. Iran has barred IAEA inspectors from the site for more than a decade.

The Institute for Science and International Security, which has been monitoring Iranian nuclear and military sites by satellite for years, believes that construction work evident at Parchin is “likely aimed at concealing past banned activities.” 

International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Yukiya Amano and Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Reza Najafi. (Photo: IAEA)

Speaking to reporters in Vienna on Monday, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano repeated the concerns in his agency’s recent report.

“These activities [at Parchin] could undermine the capability of the IAEA on verification, but as we do not have inspectors there and we are observing through satellite imagery, we do not have further insight of these activities,” he said.

Exactly how the IAEA will resolve the PMD concerns by the deadline is the subject of two “side deals” to the JCPOA – confidential understandings between Iran and the IAEA that have not been made available to the U.S. Congress as it reviews the nuclear agreement.

Leaks from one of the side deals, which focuses specifically on Parchin, indicate that the IAEA agreed to allow Iran to provide the agency with photos, video and samples which the Iranians themselves collect at the site.

The administration has challenged the notion that the Iranians will “self-inspect” and stands by the IAEA’s insistence that its arrangements are “technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices.”

But neither the State Department nor the IAEA has stated unequivocally that IAEA inspectors will be physically present at Parchin when the material is being gathered.

On the broader IAEA attempts to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities, Amano told the agency’s board of governors on Monday that the IAEA continues to verify that Iran’s “declared” nuclear material is not being diverted.

“However, the agency is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” he reported.

The IAEA has been tasked to verify and monitor Iran’s overall implementation of the negotiated nuclear agreement, the JCPOA.

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