Iran Transfers Soil to Base Targeted by Nuclear Auditors: Envoys

Pictures taken from space indicate Iran has been transferring ground soil to an armed forces installation that the International Atomic Energy Agency has sought to audit, hinting further of a possible effort to conceal indications of past nuclear weapon-relevant research at the site, Reuters quoted Western diplomatic personnel as saying last week.

Iran this year rejected several IAEA bids to send inspectors to the Parchin base, where the U.N. agency believes the government might have previously assembled a tank for performing sensitive combustion studies. Tehran insists its atomic activities have no military component, and has demanded a detailed agreement on terms for the broader IAEA probe of its nuclear work before opening the site to examination, according to previous reporting.

The most recent of the photos -- presented on Wednesday by IAEA safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts -- depicts apparent mounds of soil at the facility, informed envoys said of the Nov. 7 shot.

One of the insiders said Iranian personnel "have been scraping the earth.

"Now they obviously want to put down new earth," the envoy said. "There are piles of them that you can see."

Other recent activities include the removal of a nearby barrier, according to the official.

"We are wondering whether they are intending to bring down ... the buildings, we don't know yet," the insider said in reference to the alleged combustion tank housing and a second structure in the area.

"Extensive activities" at the base would undercut the effectiveness of any future IAEA audit, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a safeguards assessment earlier this month.

Agency Director General Yukiya Amano last week said "there are lots of activities (at Parchin) since the beginning of this year and some of these activities are quite important."

Representatives from Amano's organization are due to meet with Iranian officials on Dec. 13 in hopes of making progress on the investigation.

Senior Western diplomatic officials who attended Wednesday's IAEA presentation were primarily concerned that Iran within days could begin transferring uranium hexafluoride to nearly 700 additional uranium enrichment centrifuges at its subterranean Qum facility, the London Guardian reported. The systems were undergoing vacuum trials, a move typically carried out immediately prior to the uranium's insertion.

Last week's information session conveyed a high likelihood that the machines would refine uranium to 20 percent, according to the Guardian. Iran says it needs the 20 percent material for medical use, but Washington and other capitals fear the substance could place Tehran within closer reach of producing weapon-grade uranium, which has an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.

Iran as of August had sequestered roughly 212 pounds of the 20 percent uranium for conversion into medical reactor fuel, pushing back the point at which its stockpile of higher-enriched material would be sufficient for a bomb. The nation presently possesses 298 pounds of the substance; Israel has suggested it could employ armed force to prevent Tehran from amassing the 529 pounds of material needed for a weapon.

Tehran has not set aside additional material for medical use in the last three months, but would do so upon elimination of a mechanical glitch at its Isfahan uranium conversion site, according to information from Wednesday's presentation. Western governments might ask the U.N. nuclear watchdog for additional updates on Iran's atomic activities as its uranium stockpile approaches the Israeli benchmark, according to the Guardian.

Meanwhile, a senior Russian envoy on Wednesday voiced positive sentiments over prospects for further atomic dialogue with Iran following a  meeting between six major governments, Russia Today reported. Delegates for the powers -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- met last week in Brussels, Belgium, to confer on diplomatic strategy.

"Our main task … is to move from the stage of exchanging proposals to specific discussion of a mutually acceptable result,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said to journalists. “That's what we are working on now and the meeting that took place in Brussels today addressed the way we will proceed."

It was too soon to provide specifics on concepts under discussion for breaking the atomic deadlock, Ryabkov said. Tehran has joined the nations for three high-level 2012 gatherings aimed at addressing fears that its atomic efforts are geared toward development of a nuclear-weapon capability.

“Iran will need to make its own judgment on the position (of the international mediators)” in future discussions, the Russian envoy said. "There is no losing time and, from that point of view, the talks were productive and matters have advanced."

Iranian lawmaker Hossein Sobhani-Nia on Monday said his country is willing to join new discussions with the powers, Iran's Press TV reported.

“The Islamic Republic has always welcomed negotiations and considers them to be useful because the continuation of talks can certainly have positive points for both sides and remove ambiguities,” he said.

Meanwhile, Israel's recent clash with Hamas forces in Gaza allowed the country to examine how its defenses might perform against certain armaments in a possible conflict with Iran, Israeli and U.S. officials said in remarks reported on Thursday by the New York Times. In confronting Tehran, though, Tel Aviv would face the additional threats of long-range missiles from Iran and midrange weapons from Hezbollah.

The Israeli and U.S. armed forces were “absolutely learning a lot” from this month's eight-day battle, and their findings could support “integration of all those tiered systems into a layered approach,” according to a U.S. Army aerial protection official. Both nations have said that use of force remains an option for dealing with any Iranian nuclear threat.

The U.S. aircraft carrier John C. Stennis is set within days to reach the Persian Gulf to potentially support other locally stationed U.S. naval assets in a fight with Iran, the London Telegraph reported on Sunday. The ship's return to the region would take place one-third of a year sooner than previously scheduled.

The U.S. Navy has perpetrated "illegal and provocative acts" in the Persian Gulf as well as the Sea of Oman, Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Khazaee stated in matching grievances to the U.N. Security Council and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The documents were delivered on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

The military service violated Iran's territorial boundaries, according to the official. An unmanned aerial vehicle flew over Iranian waters on Nov. 1 despite cautionary broadcasts, and seven aerial missions took place last month near the shores of Iran's Bushehr region, he wrote.

The U.N. chief should admonish Washington "against the continuation of acts in violation of international law and of the adverse consequences of any provocative and dangerous acts for which the United States government would be held responsible," the documents state.

Elsewhere, Spain has acted against a firm believed to have illegally provided Iran with systems suited for atomic applications, AP quoted the Spanish Finance Ministry as saying on Monday. The organization allegedly used Turkey as an intermediary in sending Iran machinery for building power generator components.

Iran's computer crisis response unit on Monday played down the impact of a recently described electronic attack program on systems in the country.

November 26, 2012

Pictures taken from space indicate Iran has been transferring ground soil to an armed forces installation that the International Atomic Energy Agency has sought to audit, hinting further of a possible effort to conceal indications of past nuclear weapon-relevant research at the facility, Reuters quoted Western diplomatic personnel as saying last week.