State Dept.: Iran’s Parchin Base Is ‘Conventional Military Site,’ So No Restrictions on Construction There

By Patrick Goodenough | August 28, 2015 | 4:35am EDT
The International Atomic Energy Agency's latest Iran safeguards report cites evidence that construction work has been carried out at the Parchin military base over the last three months. (Photo: CNSNews.com/IAEA)

(CNSNews.com) – A new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report says there are signs of new construction work at Iran’s controversial Parchin military complex, but State Department spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the base is “a conventional military site, not a nuclear site,” and as such there would be no restrictions on new construction there.

The latest IAEA Iran safeguards report says that since the previous report was issued three months ago, “at a particular location at the Parchin site, the agency has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment, and probable construction materials.”

The report, which has not yet been officially released but has been posted online, added that “a small extension to an existing building appeared to have been constructed” at the site.

The IAEA reiterated its earlier-stated concerns that work undertaken by the Iranians at Parchin since 2012 is “likely to have undermined the agency’s ability to conduct effective verification [there].”

The base near Tehran is suspected to have been used for clandestine nuclear weapons-related activity, including explosive tests with applications for nuclear warhead development.

But for more than a decade Iran has denied the IAEA access to Parchin, and a recently-signed confidential IAEA-Iran arrangement allegedly allows the Iranians to collect their own photos, videos and samples there, instead of the U.N. watchdog’s inspectors doing so themselves.

Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement reached between Iran and six world powers, sanctions against Iran cannot be eased until the IAEA has clarified questions about past and present “possible military dimensions” (PMDs) of the Iranian nuclear program.

JCPOA critics worry that absent the physical presence of IAEA inspectors at sites like Parchin, it will not be able to resolve the PMD questions in a way that inspires confidence as the broader nuclear deal moves forward. The IAEA and Iran have agreed to finalize the PMD investigation by October 15.

Kirby would not speak about specifics in the latest IAEA report, on the grounds it has not yet been released officially.

However, he told a daily briefing, “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.”

“Which begs the question why it would be in the report then,” a reporter commented.

“I’m not going to confirm details in a report that hasn’t been publicly released,” Kirby responded, “and I would refer you to the IAEA for any contents that may or may not be in there.”

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has for years been monitoring satellite imagery of Iranian facilities including Parchin, and reporting on concerns that construction work seen taking place at the base may be an attempt to hide evidence of past illicit nuclear activity.

Early this month, ISIS cited satellite images showing that the Iranians had evidently renewed construction activity at Parchin soon after the JCPOA was finalized on July 14.

“Although it is difficult to fathom Iran’s motivations for its recent actions at Parchin, this renewed activity may be a last ditch effort to try to ensure that no incriminating evidence will be found,” it said at the time.

In its assessment Thursday of the latest IAEA Iran safeguards report, ISIS said the references to the Parchin activity bore out ISIS’ previous analysis.

In a statement on August 5, Iran’s mission to the United Nations said that the Parchin base “covers a very vast area, which includes different military, industrial, administrative and residential sections. It is, thus, quite normal to have construction works underway at any time.”

Iran claimed further that activity at Parchin was related to road repairs at the facility, but ISIS countered that the satellite imagery did not bear out those claims.

ISIS said Iran’s response to concerns about its activity at Parchin “suggest that it has no intention of addressing the IAEA’s concerns about the possible military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear programs.”

“The United States and its allies should be prepared not to waive sanctions unless Iran addresses these PMD concerns,” it said.

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