What is Iran hiding at Parchin?Posted: 22/02/2012
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors on their second visit to Iran in a month have been turned away from a military base in Parchin, immediately raising questions about the activities being carried out there.
The IAEA last had access to Parchin, about 30km southeast of Tehran, in early 2005. According to the 2011 IISS dossier on Iran’s nuclear capabilities: ‘The site contained test bunkers and diagnostic buildings, which US officials suspected might be used for high-explosive tests related to nuclear weapons development. Such tests are commonly used to develop the high-explosive lens system for implosion designs [ie. bombs].
‘In January 2005, Iran allowed the IAEA to visit and take samples at one of four locations in Parchin to which it had requested access. In March 2005, the IAEA reported that it “saw no relevant dual-use equipment or materials in the location visited”. Environmental samples taken at the selected site did not indicate the presence of nuclear materials.’
The director of the IISS non-proliferation programme, Mark Fitzpatrick, has said today that it is ‘very disappointing’ for the IAEA to come back from Tehran with nothing to show for it for a second time – and an ‘own goal’ by the Iranians.
‘The IAEA had been led to believe they would have access to the Parchin military complex to investigate information that it was the site of unreported nuclear explosive-related experiments,’ he said. ‘But hardliners in Tehran prevailed over those who wanted to demonstrate some flexibility in order to quiet the war-drums and slow down the sanctions that are beginning to strangle the Iranian economy.’
Fitzpatrick said this was ‘very strong language from the IAEA’, but he still believed that the Parchin development did not mean the end of diplomacy. ‘In dealing with Iran, nothing ever happens quickly. More meetings will be scheduled, and discussions will continue in Tehran about whether to answer more of the IAEA’s questions.
‘They can’t answer all of the questions honestly, because to do so would be to admit complicity in nuclear weapons development work, for which they would then be further penalised, unless the admissions came as part of a negotiation process that granted Iran immunity for admissions of past guilt.
‘Still, Iran is usually more clever about giving the IAEA half answers. This time the inspectors apparently came away with no answers at all.’