(CNSNews.com) – White House press secretary Josh Earnest suggested Monday that a brief visit to a controversial Iranian military facility by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief and his deputy shows that Iran has now opened military bases to international inspections.
Addressing a press briefing, he recalled “some claims made by critics of the [Iran nuclear] deal that the IAEA would not have access to military sites.”
“The fact is that the director-general of the IAEA was at a prominent Iranian military site over the weekend!”
Earnest characterized the development as further evidence that criticism of the negotiated nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was unfounded.
“I do think that as this agreement moves forward to being implemented, we’ll have many future opportunities to illustrate how the critics and warnings of many of those who opposed the Iran deal are eventually disproven, based on the way the agreement is implemented,” he said.
For more than a decade Iran has forbidden the IAEA access to the Parchin military installation, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog suspects Iran carried out work on designs for detonator devices that could be used in a nuclear weapon and could fit in a ballistic missile warhead.
But after the Iranians collected environmental samples at the site last week for examination by the agency, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano and deputy director-general Tero Varjoranta paid a visit to Parchin at the weekend.
Back in Vienna on Monday, Amano told reporters that the pair had been able to enter a building at the base which the agency has up to now only been able to observe via satellite imagery.
“Inside the building, we saw indications of recent renovation work,” he said. “There was no equipment in the building. Our experts will now analyze this information and we will have discussions with Iran in the coming weeks.”
Under the JCPOA, sanctions against Iran may not be eased until the IAEA has resolved outstanding concerns about the “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear energy program – that is, past and possibly ongoing activities that have possible applications for the development of a nuclear bomb.
According to a confidential IAEA-Iran side deal – a draft of which was leaked to the Associated Press last month – Amano’s visit to Parchin was described as one which Iran would agree to “as a courtesy.”
Still, Earnest suggested that the visit was a sign Iran has now opened up Parchin to IAEA inspectors.
At the State Department, spokesman John Kirby was pressed on whether the administration thought a short “courtesy call” by Amano and his deputy amounted to it being open to inspections.
“A brief visit to an empty room at Parchin, you think counts – qualifies as an inspection?” asked Matt Lee of the Associated Press.
“It’s not insignificant that they had access to Parchin – the director-general himself,” replied Kirby, who also said, “I don’t know that we would characterize it as a courtesy call.”
“Not even the IAEA said this was an inspection, but your colleague at the White House suggested that the fact that Director General Amano was able to briefly visit one room, or one part of the site, was evidence that the Iranians have opened up their military sites to IAEA access,” Lee said, and asked whether the State Department shared that view.
“We believe it’s significant that Iran granted access to this facility at Parchin for the first time in the history of this issue,” Kirby said.