Iran is sanitizing a military site believed to have been used for nuclear weapons research in the past. Testing of the site by the IAEA is one of the final hurdles Iran has to clear to gain sanction relief, and the U.S. intelligence community has evidence Iran is trying to cheat on those tests.
A blockbuster report by Josh Rogin and Eli Lake reveals the U.S. intelligence community has shared satellite imagery with top lawmakers which shows Iran doing heavy construction at Parchin, a military site where the IAEA has reason to believe Iran conducted nuclear weapons testing in the past.
Intelligence officials and lawmakers who have seen the new evidence, which is still classified, told us that satellite imagery picked up by U.S. government assets in mid- and late July showed that Iran had moved bulldozers and other heavy machinery to the Parchin site and that the U.S. intelligence community concluded with high confidence that the Iranian government was working to clean up the site ahead of planned inspections by the IAEA.
Sen. Richard Burr told the Bloomberg reporters the Iranian efforts to sanitize Parchin was “a huge concern.” Sen. Bob Corker said he was disturbed by the “blatant way” in which Iran was apparently seeking to prepare the site to fool the IAEA inspectors. “Iran is going to know that we know,” he told Bloomberg.
The IAEA signed a side deal with Iran designed to resolve questions about the past military dimensions (PMD) of its nuclear program. That deal requires Iran to allow the IAEA to access the Parchin military site for testing no later than mid-October. However, some senators have suggested that, under the agreement, Iran may be allowed to collect and provide their own samples to the IAEA for testing, making it more likely they could try to cheat.
Resolving PMD issues has been one of the headline issues in the nuclear agreement for months. Officially, President Obama has insisted Iran will have to resolve all outstanding questions before any sanctions relief takes place. However, Secretary Kerry signaled in June that the administration was not concerned about resolving past nuclear research because, he claimed, “we know what they did.” Democratic Sen. Chris Coons echoed Kerry, telling Bloomberg, “We know what the Iranians did at Parchin.” And because we know, Coons says he is not too concerned about these past issues.
Meanwhile, Iran has maintained for years, including throughout the negotiation of the current deal, that any evidence suggesting it had researched nuclear weapons in the past was fabricated by foreign intelligence agencies. The intense political pressure for the deal to go forward has led some outside experts to suggest the IAEA will issue a hand-waving report which doesn’t really resolve questions about Iran’s past nuclear research.
Tariq Rauf, a former IAEA official, told the Guardian last month, “[IAEA Director] Amano has said he will give an assessment report, not a conclusion, which is not what the IAEA normally does. His likely assessment by December is that there are unanswered questions, but the agency has what it needs, and it will be rubber-stamped by the board.”
Failure to pin Iran down on this will allow them to continue the fiction that they had never sought nuclear weapons in the past, meaning they could emerge with a clean slate on this issue despite the fact that our government says they are lying. Iran’s attempt to sanitize the site with the whole world watching suggests they are very confident indeed that nothing, not even blatant attempts to sanitize evidence, will be allowed to stop this deal from proceeding.