Iran is close to wrapping up an apparent effort to conceal incriminating material at a site suspected by U.N. auditors to have hosted nuclear weapon-relevant research, two high-level envoys told the Associated Press on Tuesday.
Tehran has rejected several International Atomic Energy Agency bids in 2012 to examine the Parchin armed forces installation, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog believes the government might have assembled a tank for performing sensitive combustion studies. Iran insists its atomic activities have no military component, and has demanded a detailed agreement on investigation terms before opening the site to auditors; insiders at the Vienna, Austria-based atomic organization have dismissed the call as a means of delay.
Agency representatives are set to meet with Iranian officials on Friday for "further discussions on a structured approach to resolve outstanding issues relating to Iran's nuclear program," Reuters quoted the agency as saying.
Personnel at Parchin have eliminated structures, transferred ground material and pursued additional moves with potential to "hamper our future verification activities," AP quoted IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano as saying previously. It appears efforts "may have been undertaken related to the development of nuclear explosive devices," Amano said, adding rapid entry by his agency "is very important to clarify this issue."
One high-level international relations official on Tuesday referred to undisclosed pictures taken from space in asserting that the purported concealment bid had reached its "end phase." The insider refused to discuss details of the images, citing their confidential nature.
Coverings deployed by Iran have blocked some site activities from view of reconnaissance spacecraft, according to hints from the envoy, who represents a government suspicious of Tehran's atomic endeavors.
A forthcoming IAEA safeguards report might find that the concealment effort had largely obviated any opportunity to uncover crucial evidence at the facility, the envoy and a second diplomatic official said. The report is due ahead of next month's meeting of the agency governing board, which is expected to focus on Iran.
Iranian officials will only open Parchin to U.N. investigators if "they are extremely confident that there will be nothing found," Reuters quoted an envoy tied to the U.N. nuclear watchdog as saying.
Former U.S. State Department analyst Mark Fitzpatrick said "the cleanup probably could not totally remove uranium particles, but they wouldn't be enriched and Iran would be able to offer exculpatory explanations."
One Western international relations official said "we don't have any expectation that [the Friday discussion] will be a substantive meeting," according to Reuters.
Tehran in a June discussion placed "more unacceptable conditions" on potential plans for executing an IAEA investigation of possible weapon-related Iranian atomic activities, said Mark Hibbs, a specialist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"They would have to do a serious climb down for the IAEA to conclude a new agreement," Hibbs stated.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration on Tuesday indicated the global community is less united over addressing the violent conflict in Syria than the Iranian nuclear dispute, United Press International reported.
"In terms of Iran, the situation is a little bit different. There is a much tighter international coalition that's in place to confront the threat that's posed by the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, addressing why President Obama had not referred explicitly to "red lines" over Iranian atomic activities as did on Monday regarding Syria's potential use of chemical armaments.
"The United States has worked in a multilateral fashion with our allies, with other countries in the region to put in crippling sanctions. The Iranian regime has complained publicly about the significant impact that those sanctions are having on the local economy," Earnest said.
Securing more military-related funding has been a goal for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in warning of a possible clash with Iran, according to the Washington Post. Netanyahu has referred repeatedly to the possibility of an Israeli strike aimed at curbing Tehran's atomic efforts.
Such a move by Tel Aviv would require $41.4 billion in Israeli funds, UPI quoted an analysis by Business Data Israel as saying.
Elsewhere, Australia unveiled a new round of unilateral economic penalties targeting dealings linked to Iran's petroleum, gasoline and monetary operations, the Australian Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
"These sanctions aim to increase pressure on Iran to comply with nuclear nonproliferation obligations and with United Nations Security Council resolutions," Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said in prepared remarks. "By introducing these sanctions -- alongside others such as those of the European Union -- we seek to bring Iran back to serious negotiations."
Tanzania and Tuvalu have said they would strike National Iranian Tanker ships from their registries, prompting Tehran to seek alternative means of evading U.S. and European restrictions on its petroleum delivery vessels, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.
The Royal Bank of Scotland is the subject of a U.S. inquiry over potential violations of punitive measures against Iran, according to another Tuesday report by the newspaper.