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Picture Bolsters Fear of Concealment at Iranian Base

Iran’s Parchin military base, shown in a 2004 satellite photo. A Friday satellite image suggests "ground-scraping activities" might be under way at the site to eliminate incriminating material before a potential visit by U.N. inspectors to gather information about possible nuclear-weapon development activities in the nation, according to sources (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe). Iran’s Parchin military base, shown in a 2004 satellite photo. A Friday satellite image suggests "ground-scraping activities" might be under way at the site to eliminate incriminating material before a potential visit by U.N. inspectors to gather information about possible nuclear-weapon development activities in the nation, according to sources (AP Photo/DigitalGlobe).

A picture taken from space on Friday points to possible Iranian "ground-scraping activities" aimed at concealing worrisome material from a site  thought by U.N. auditors to have potentially hosted nuclear weapon-relevant experimentation, Reuters on Wednesday quoted informed sources as saying (see GSN, May 29).

The picture, revealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency at a Wednesday gathering, depicts the purported concealment effort under way at Iran's Parchin armed forces installation, said the meeting observer. The U.N. nuclear watchdog in November reported indications that the Persian Gulf regional power had assembled a tank at the installation for performing detonations that could be associated with a nuclear-weapon development effort (see GSN, Nov. 9, 2011).

"They clearly think they have something to hide," according to a diplomatic official from a Western nation.

No fewer than two structures at the base appear to have disappeared since earlier pictures were taken, envoys said. That indicates "serious work" had been conducted at the location, one source said.

Tehran has brushed off concerns over the facility as "childish" and "ridiculous." A top Iranian atomic official on Saturday said the U.N. nuclear watchdog had yet to provide sufficient justification for access to the site, according to earlier reporting (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters, May 30).

The five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany last week hinted at an unacceptable willingness to tolerate continued Iranian production of low-enriched uranium, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

At a two-day meeting in Baghdad, representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States sought to persuade Iran to halt refinement of uranium to a higher level suited for faster conversion to weapon-grade material, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Persian Gulf regional power insists its nuclear program is strictly peaceful.

"It was expected that the world powers would ask Iran to stop all enrichment in light of the serial violations of Iran," Netanyahu said. "Instead, they are lowering their demands."

A lack of progress in resolving the nuclear dispute through diplomacy would increase the probability of an Israeli armed offensive against Iran, and the potential for Netanyahu to condemn dialogue with the country has emerged as a source of fear among U.S. government personnel, according to the Journal. The six negotiating governments have convened two meetings with Tehran so far this year, and they are slated to hold another session next month in Moscow (Mitnick/Solomon, Wall Street Journal, May 29).

“Iran must stop all nuclear enrichment, remove from its territory all material that has been enriched until now and demolish the underground (nuclear) facility in Qum," the Associated Press quoted Netanyahu as saying.

“Only an explicit Iranian commitment in negotiations to carry out these three demands and verification they have been done can stop the Iranian nuclear project," the Israeli leader said. “Unfortunately, that is not what is being demanded from Iran today" (Ian Deitch, Associated Press/Boston Globe, May 29).

Achieving Netanyahu's demands are formal objectives for the United States and European powers, though they have prioritized ending Iranian production of 20 percent-enriched uranium, according to the Journal. Tehran appeared this week to rule out suspending manufacturing of the more highly refined material, which is ostensibly intended to fuel a medical reactor, according to earlier reporting.

Tel Aviv's inflexible demands have occasionally facilitated attempts at engagement, U.S. and European government insiders said, noting they have leveraged remarks by the Israeli prime minister in seeking more restrictive punitive economic steps against Iran. Financial action aimed at halting Iran's disputed atomic activities is more desirable than an Israeli strike with the same goal, they said.

The Israeli position, though, has been perceived to limit U.S. alternatives in proposing incentives for Iranian cooperation, the Journal reported. U.S. government sources said they were planning no curbs on measures targeting Iranian petroleum operations; Tehran has called for a loosening of economic penalties in any potential compromise (Mitnick/Solomon, Wall Street Journal).

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday said Iran's pursuit of atomic armaments represents a "sword over the neck of Israel," Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.

"At the end of the day, the government of Israel, and it alone, is responsible for taking decisions that are vital to the security and future of the state of Israel," Barak said (Deutsche Presse-Agentur/Europe Online Magazine, May 30).

"Iran's (nuclear) policy is casting a shadow over the whole region," Israeli President Shimon Peres added on Tuesday in comments reported by Agence France-Presse. "They are actually building a nuclear weapon. This weapon is a threat for the whole world."

"Iran's President (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) is threatening a new [Holocaust]. We cannot ignore that," Peres said (Agence France-Presse I/Now Lebanon, May 29).

It is unclear whether Washington would notify Tel Aviv of an impending Iranian attack using data from a U.S. missile defense radar in the Negev Desert, and the ambiguity might be discouraging Israeli military action against Iran, Time magazine on Wednesday quoted armed forces insiders and independent specialists as saying (see GSN, July 24, 2009; Vick/Klein, Time, May 30).

U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman on Tuesday briefed delegates from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council on last week's multilateral meeting with Iran, the State Department said.

Sherman stressed her country's "commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," and she "emphasized the need to maintain pressure on Iran to comply with its international obligations, even as P-5+1 countries pursue negotiations.," the department said in a statement (U.S. State Department release, May 29).

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro on Wednesday said Washington does not "intend on continuing talks for talks' sake."

"The window is closing," AFP quoted Shapiro as saying.

"We have no illusions that Iran may be using this to buy time," the diplomat added. "It is up to Iran to follow through. The burden falls on Iran to prove it is serious" (Agence France-Presse II/Google News, May 30).

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top counselor to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday urged Germany and the five Security Council member nations to confer on a shared approach to the nuclear standoff, Iran's Mehr News Agency reported.

“The [P-5+1] group should hold more consultations with each other in order to help the Moscow talks produce more concrete results for the two sides,” Velayati said.

“As expected, in Baghdad the other side was willing to continue negotiations, but they did not have a clear and comprehensive plan,” the official said. “We hope that the [P-5+1] will increase coordination between themselves before presenting their plans at the talks so that they can engage in negotiations more consistently and purposefully” (Mehr News Agency, May 29).

A one-time high-level Iranian atomic envoy said the sides raised hopes for compromise at an April meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported.

"The P-5+1 accepted to find a solution within the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty. Before, they were always asking for requirements from Iran beyond the NPT, like zero enrichment," said Hossein Mousavian, now a short-term Princeton University academic.

"They have admitted the principle of reciprocity. This was something that since 2003 we were telling them. That if you are going to find a face-saving solution, we need reciprocity. If we take one step, you should take one step and go forward," Mousavian said (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace release, May 29).

Meanwhile, Iran has connected Flame -- a computer attack program now spreading across the country -- to an electronic worm that previously harmed Iranian uranium enrichment operations, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday (Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, May 29).

Still, an expert with the group that identified the new program said "there is no reliable connection between Stuxnet and Flame," Russia Today reported on Tuesday (Russia Today, May 29).

 

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