United Nations nuclear inspectors, negotiating today in Tehran over wider access to suspected atomic sites, risk undermining their work by focusing too narrowly on winning access to an Iranian military base, according to analysts including a former monitor.
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have sought access to the Parchin base for more than a year after receiving intelligence that Iran built a blast chamber at the sprawling complex that could be used to test nuclear-weapons components. The IAEA may be relying too heavily on outside analysis, said Robert Kelley, the agency’s former lead inspector in Iraq.
“The IAEA’s authority is supposed to derive from its ability to independently analyze information,” said Kelley, who helped uncover forged documents passed on to the agency before the 2003 Iraq war. “At Parchin, they appear to be merely echoing the intelligence and analysis of a few member states.”
The IAEA published a report in November 2011 citing what it called “credible” intelligence that Iran had researched nuclear-weapons components. While the Persian Gulf nation denies it sought atomic bombs, it has refused to answer the accusations because the IAEA won’t give the officials full access to the evidence being used against it.
Whether Iran will be permitted to see the evidence, itself provided to the IAEA by unidentified intelligence agencies, “is part of the negotiation,” Herman Nackaerts, who leads the agency’s Iran inspections, told reporters yesterday in Vienna.
Not sharing evidence “simply isn’t a method through which to generate a perception of credibility and legitimacy in the process or the substance of your allegations,” Dan Joyner, a lawyer and author of Interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Oxford University Press), said in an e-mailed reply to questions. “The throwback to the Iraq war is just so striking here.”
The concerns of Kelley and Joyner echo those expressed by former IAEA director generals Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei.
The agency must be more skeptical with the information it receives from outside sources, Blix said in a September interview. ElBaradei, who didn’t respond to e-mailed requests for comment, wrote in his 2011 biography “The Age of Deception” (Metropolitan Books) that the IAEA doesn’t make intelligence information public when it can’t be authenticated.
According to Kelley, a nuclear engineer who worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the IAEA has published faulty satellite analysis of the Parchin site. He contests IAEA assertions that Iran has been trying to hide clean-up and demolition at the facility.
“The IAEA stands to undermine its technical credibility by making statements that cannot be supported,” he wrote. “They refer to shrouding of buildings with tarps that turn out to be simply Styrofoam insulation panels in a remodeling effort.”
Kelley also questioned IAEA assertions that the bulldozing of 25 acres of land in the neighborhood would interfere with its ability to carry out an inspection should one take place. “They fail to mention that the vast majority of this activity is on a construction site over 0.5 kilometers away and that land immediately adjacent to the targeted building is untouched and is available for sampling and inspection,” he said.
The IAEA declined to comment. Other independent analysts, including Institute for Science and and International Security Director David Albright, agree with the agency’s conclusions. ISIS called the Parchin changes “significant” in a November report.
“Parchin is a military area and so activities are ongoing, and these have nothing to do with nuclear activities,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, told journalists in Tehran yesterday. “Any issue that may exist can be overcome in meetings between representatives of Iran and the IAEA” after “Iran’s nuclear rights are fully recognized and a specific agreement is reached.”
The IAEA, which is seeking access to dozens of sites and individuals beyond Parchin, wants to conclude an agreement with Iran today, Nackaerts said. The agency will submit its next public report on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work at its March 4 Board of Governors meeting.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at email@example.com