Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
Iranian Nuclear Concealment Possible: Amano
Iran might be attempting to eliminate incriminating material at its Parchin armed forces installation prior to the potential arrival of U.N. investigators to gather information about possible nuclear-weapon development activities in the country, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano said on Friday (see GSN, March 12).
"We have information that some activity is ongoing there," Reuters quoted Amano as saying.
Iran last week tentatively offered to permit agency officials to inspect the Parchin facility after denying access to high-level IAEA teams that made two visits to the country this year. The Persian Gulf regional power might be deferring the audit of the site as it seeks to remove indications of explosive detonations relevant to a nuclear-bomb preparation, according to Western diplomats. The United States and five other world powers at an IAEA governing board meeting last week called for Iran to move quickly to allow the agency to view the site.
A "possibility" of concealment at the site "is not excluded," the U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said. "We cannot say for sure because we are not there."
"We have to go there," he added.
The potential is present for Iran to remove any incriminating material at the facility before it is opened to IAEA officials, Amano said. "That is one of the reasons why we say (going there) sooner is better."
"Major differences between Iran and the agency" previously prevented the sides from hammering out a deal that might have permitted investigators at the site, IAEA safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts told his organization's 35-nation governing board on Thursday.
Pictures taken from space show "the precise location where we believe an explosive chamber is situated," Nackaerts added. A November IAEA safeguards report referred to indications that Iran had assembled a tank at the installation for performing explosive detonations serving as "strong indicators of possible weapon development," according to previous reports (see GSN, Nov. 9, 2011).
Tehran has consistently denied allegations by Western governments that its atomic efforts are geared toward weapons development. U.S. intelligence leaders have said recently they do not believe Iran has made the final decision to produce a nuclear weapon, but that assessment is not universally accepted (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, March 9).
Amano declined to comment on the likelihood of military action aimed at curbing Iran's atomic activities, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
"We need to keep working with a clear mind and a quiet mind," he said.
Israeli leaders have made it clear they have finite patience with diplomatic and economic measures that have to date failed to curb Iran's contested atomic activities. The Obama administration has also not ruled out the use of force as a means of resolving the nuclear standoff.
"I'm against the use of force. And I believe in dialogue and cooperation," the IAEA leader said (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, March 9).
Anticipated discussions with the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany could offer a forum for Iran to suggest opening the Parchin facility to scrutiny, one expert said in comments reported by Agence France-Presse on Friday.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton last week said the six world powers -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- had decided to join new discussions with Iran over the Middle Eastern nation's nuclear program. Iranian officials most recently met with representatives from the nations on two separate occasions in December 2010 and January 2011, but neither gathering yielded clear progress toward resolving concerns about Iranian atomic operations (see GSN, Jan. 24, 2011).
“If the Iranians are clever they would give access to Parchin, but try at the same time to organize it in a way that the inspectors can have general access but not access to every single facility,” said Oliver Thraenert, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “It’s a huge place” (Agence France-Presse/Khaleej Times, March 9).
Ashton on Saturday called for atomic discussions with Iran to move forward in a fast, substantive manner, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"Our purpose is to persuade Iran to move away from its nuclear program," the official said. "We hope from the contacts we've had that this process can now move forward swiftly and seriously."
"No discussion" of armed intervention in Iran has taken place in the context of the European Union, Danish Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal said while appearing with Ashton (Laurence Norman, Wall Street Journal, March 10).
A joint statement by the six world powers last week does not chastise Iran over its failure to fully accommodate IAEA inspectors, the Associated Press reported on Friday. The absence of such language represents a concession to Russia and China by the group's Western members, and it reflects a divide Iran could seek to exploit in a potential multilateral meeting, according to AP (George Jahn, Associated Press/Boston Globe, March 9).
Iran is "ready to begin negotiations with [the six powers] tomorrow," Interfax on Sunday quoted Iranian Ambassador to Russia Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi as saying.
"We told them to propose a date. We are ready to meet tomorrow and hold these negotiations," Sajjadi said. "The problem is that the six countries have to agree on this issue. I would like to deny 100 percent that Iran has caused any delay or unseriousness in this matter."
"They can conduct inspections in Parchin, but they have to be within the international norms. There's no problem," the official said (Interfax, March 11).
The Iranian atomic standoff is one anticipated topic of discussion between President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron at a White House meeting slated for Wednesday, USA Today reported (Aamer Madhani, USA Today, March 12).
Multiple U.S. government insiders have questioned Obama's confidence that Washington is capable of detecting any hidden Iranian attempt to complete a nuclear weapon, the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday. The White House has insisted U.S. systems could detect such an effort and potentially prompt a decision to attack.
Undeclared Iranian uranium enrichment sites have been uncovered by Western intelligence services on two occasions in the past 10 years, and it is unclear if Iran concealing additional refinement facilities or other installations with bomb applications, according to the Times. The enrichment process can yield civilian fuel as well as nuclear-weapon material.
"You have to assume that, if they went clandestine once, they could well go clandestine in other places," said Senate intelligence committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) added: "As someone who deals with this stuff every day, I'm not sure how (the president) is that confident,"
"I am confident that at some point … we would know, probably. The problem is, you wouldn't know if that meant they'd have a weapon in three days or in three months," Rogers added.
Iranian officials "are learning from their mistakes, and they are getting better about how to keep things more quiet," the lawmaker said. "This is a cat-and-mouse game for them."
A high-level U.S. government insider defended Obama's belief that the United States would learn of a concealed Iranian attempt to assemble a bomb.
"First, IAEA inspectors are on the ground safeguarding Iran's enriched material and would detect any effort to divert it," the insider said. "Secondly, we have detected covert facilities in the past … and are confident we would do so again before Iran is in a position to use such facilities to produce enriched uranium."
Former U.N. nuclear watchdog safeguards chief Olli Heinonen suggested Iran might complete various bomb components over a number of years before finally producing fuel for a weapon, a step likely to take around one month (Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times, March 12).
Next Steps in Reducing Nuclear Risks: The Pace of Nonproliferation Work Today Doesn't Match the Urgency of the Threat
March 5, 2013
The fifth in a series of Wall Street Journal op-eds calling for bold action to reduce nuclear dangers.
This article provides an overview of Iran’s historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.