U.N. watchdog: Iran expanding Parchin facility


The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran has built an extension to its military facility at Parchin.

A segment of the confidential report seen by the Reuters news agency says that while Iran has largely been complying with agreements on curtailing its nuclear program, its activity at the site since February 2012 has likely undermined the IAEA’s ability to “conduct effective verification.”

“Since [our] previous report [in May], at a particular location at the Parchin site, the agency has continued to observe, through satellite imagery, the presence of vehicles, equipment, and probable construction materials. In addition, a small extension to an existing building appears to have [been] constructed,” the report was quoted by Reuters as saying.The report covers Iranian activity from before the signing of the long-term nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, in July. The deal lifts sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

Activities at the site since 2012, during a time Iran stonewalled IAEA requests to visit the site or receive information on it, have undermined the agency’s ability to verify intelligence suggesting that Tehran conducted tests relevant to nuclear bomb detonations at the site in the past, diplomats said Thursday.

Specifically, the IAEA believes Tehran may have experimented there with high-explosive detonators for nuclear arms.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied the allegations, saying his country was merely repairing roads near the Parchin site and not hiding evidence from the nuclear facility.

Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Iran cannot be trusted not to use the terms of the agreement to secretly advance its nuclear program while also benefiting from the lifting of sanctions to divert more funds into doing just that.

But President Barack Obama has defended the deal, saying it is the best way of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear arms. Congress will vote on the deal in September, and Obama has vowed to veto any efforts to stop the deal.

 
 
 

AP: Iran has side agreement with UN allowing it to do its own nuke inspections


Iran has a secret agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency enabling it to choose its own experts to inspect its Parchin nuclear site.

In a finding that could have implications for the nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, The Associated Press reported Wednesday that it had obtained a document outlining an agreement, which it described as a “separate side agreement worked out between [the United Nations agency] and Iran.”

While the United States and the five other world powers that negotiated the Iran nuclear deal were “not party to this agreement,” they “were briefed on it by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package,” the AP reported.

Under the agreement, the IAEA allows Iran “to employ its own experts and equipment in the search for evidence or activities that it has consistently denied — trying to develop nuclear weapons,” the article said.

While the document obtained by the AP is a draft, and not the final version of the agreement, one official familiar with its contents told the news service it “doesn’t differ substantially from the final version.”

Opponents of the Iran nuclear deal in Israel and the United States quickly responded to the report.

While the White House declined to comment on the reported document, according to the Times of Israel, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said, “One must welcome this global innovation and outside-the-box thinking,’ he said sarcastically. “One can only wonder if the Iranian inspectors will also have to wait 24 days before being able to visit the site and look for incriminating evidence?”

He was referring to a section in the nuclear deal that gives Iran 24-days notice prior to inspections of its nuclear sites.

“This side agreement shows that true verification is a sham, and it begs the question of what else the administration is keeping from Congress,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, said, according to the Times of Israel.

 

John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican senator, said, “Trusting Iran to inspect its own nuclear site and report to the U.N. in an open and transparent way is remarkably naive and incredibly reckless. This revelation only reinforces the deep-seated concerns the American people have about the agreement.”

Report: Iran ordered Hezbollah to carry out attack on Israel over nuclear facility bombing


Iran instructed Hezbollah to attack Israeli forces on the border with Lebanon in retaliation for the “bombing” of Iran’s Parchin nuclear facility, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported.

The report Friday in the al-Rai newspaper cites high-level Washington-based European diplomats, who said a “foreign country” was responsible for the bombing of the military base and suspected nuclear facility.

The report also says that Western intelligence agencies believe that Iran has been conducting tests at Parchin. The bombing thwarted the tests, according to the report.

Hezbollah said Wednesday the attack on Lebanon’s border with Israel that left two Israeli soldiers injured was a “message” for Israel.

“This is a message. Even though we are busy in Syria and on the eastern front in Lebanon, our eyes remain open and our resistance is ready to confront the Israeli enemy,” Sheik Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary-general, told Lebanese OTV television late Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Satellite images taken of Parchin after the explosion at the military facility show damage consistent with an air attack, defense expert Ronen Solomon told Israel Channel 2 and Defense Magazine.

Explosion viewed in vicinity of Tehran site linked to nukes


An explosion at or near an Iranian military complex believed to be a site for nuclear testing created a large orange flash over Tehran.

The New York Times reported that the explosion on Sunday night came from the direction of the Parchin complex, where Iran has been accused of testing nuclear weapons.

Iranian officials denied the explosion originated there.

Iran’s Defense Industries Organization said that two people were missing after “an ordinary fire” caused by “chemical reactions of flammable material” at an unspecified location, the Times reported.

Witnesses near the site said that windows had been shattered in the vicinity and that all trees in a hundred-yard radius of two villages on the outskirt of the military facility were burned.

The United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited Parchin in 2005, but since then have not been allowed to return, despite repeated requests.

Rob Eshman: What’s next for Iran?


By Monday morning, the Israeli reaction to the nuclear deal with Iran had changed from “What happened?” to “Now what?”

And that reaction makes a lot more sense.

The interim agreement signed by Iran and the group of negotiating nations known as P5+1 on Saturday night, Nov. 23,  Iran committed to halt uranium enrichment above 5 percent, to neutralize its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, to suspend its installation of updated centrifuges and its plutonium enrichment, to suspend development of its Arak heavy water reactor and to allow for highly intrusive inspection and monitoring of its nuclear program.

In return, Iran will receive between $6 billion and $7 billion in sanctions relief, while still facing some $30 billion in lost oil revenue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can call the historic deal a “historic mistake,” but the ink is dry, and there’s no going back.  

The dogs bark, as the old Middle East proverb goes, the caravan moves on.

Critics are comparing the interim deal to the 1938 Munich Agreement—but, to be fair, the President’s critics compare everything he does to the 1938 Munich Agreement. 

The reality is far more complicated.  There are serious weaknesses in the deal, as well as strengths.  We can harp on the drawbacks or use the six-month window before the next planned agreement to secure a better deal.

The deal’s weaknesses are legion — the agreement barely shortens the time Iran needs to “break out” and develop a nuclear weapon. Iran can still maintain its 19,000 centrifuges. It still reserves the right to enrich uranium. The deal’s language is vague enough on this point and others for the signatories to become bogged down in interpretations over what the agreement means, rather than focus on its execution.  And relaxing  international sanctions makes it that much more difficult to set them back in place.

Worst of all, the accord puts us in business with a regime that crushes the rights of its people, sows havoc and terror from Gaza to Lebanon to Syria, and that has, of course, lied openly and consistently about the very existence of its nuclear weapons program. 

But there is good news here, too.  The interim agreement allows for the most intrusive inspections ever.    It stalls Iran’s otherwise relentless march toward nuclear capability.  And the sanctions are reversible— easier said than done, yes, but possible — especially if the world sees the alternative is war. 

The accords, by the way, do not limit a military response to Iranian nukes—which still remains the biggest threat hanging over the regime’s head. 

These positive developments are one reason the Israeli reaction was not all negative. The agreement, former Israeli Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin said,  “was neither the dream agreement nor the fall of the Third Temple.”

“If this were the final agreement – then it would really be a bad agreement, but that’s not the situation,” Yadlin told Israeli reporters.

So, to repeat, now what?

Looking forward, not backward, these are the next steps to insure a much safer world.  Among them must be:

1. Parchin:  The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes Iran is using the Parchin military complex for secret nuclear weapons development.  Inspectors have to get in there and reveal the truth.

2. Fordo: Inspectors must be allowed access to the Fordo underground enrichment facility whose only possible purpose, experts say, is the development of nuclear weapons capability.

3. Sanctions:  Congress and the international community need to keep the pressure on by preparing a list of crippling sanctions that can be triggered with little more than a Skype call.  Critics say sanctions will be impossible to revive, but the original fear that led to the sanctions was the threat of a U.S. or Israeli military action.  As long as that doesn’t go away, neither will sanctions.

4. Treaties:  The United States can use this opportunity to strengthen its relationships with Israel and other Mideast allies.  That, UCLA Professor and Israel Policy Forum scholar Steven Spiegel wrote, would go a long way toward reassuring our allies and putting Iran on notice that it would face unified opposition to any provocations.

5.  A Final Deal:  This interim deal is for six months.   A final deal should come in month seven.  If the Iranians try to extend, weaken or back out of that – then Obama will know he’s been had.  After all, the outlines of a comprehensive deal aren’t mysterious: An end to Iran’s ability to build and deploy nuclear weapons.   For Yadlin, that means Iran will agree to maintain as few centrifuges as possible, preferably none at all. It will also agree to strict limits on the level of enrichment and the amount of enriched material.

Then, Yadlin said, “if the Iranians decide to violate the agreement, it will take them years rather than months.”

Six months from now is June 2014.  Critics of the interim accord need to stop barking, and start working.

Remove Israeli threat to inspect Parchin nuclear site, Iran says


Iran said it would open the Parchin military complex to United Nations nuclear inspectors if threats of an Israeli attack are neutralized.

“If external threats were defused, then they — the IAEA — could be enabled to inspect Parchin,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Ghashghavi reportedly said Thursday.

Israel has threatened to attack Iranian nuclear sites if nuclear enrichment is not halted. President Obama has indicated that all options are on the table.

A seven-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency met with Iranian nuclear officials earlier this month. The team also attempted but failed to visit Parchin, which the IAEA has been trying to see for the last year. Satellite photos of the site near Tehran indicate that it has been used for nuclear weapons experiments.

In August, the IAEA released a report that included details on Iran demolishing buildings and sterilizing the Parchin military complex, which would make it harder to detect the nature of nuclear research efforts there.

The IAEA regularly visits Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, including enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordo.

Tehran says its nuclear activity is for creating domestic energy and peaceful research. The West believes Iran is attempting to create a nuclear weapon.

Iran ready to double nuclear work in bunker, IAEA says


Iran is set to sharply expand its uranium enrichment in an underground site after installing all the centrifuges it was built for, a U.N. nuclear report showed on Friday, a move that could increase Western alarm about Tehran's nuclear course.

The latest quarterly International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran came 10 days after the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama, which raised hopes for a revival of nuclear diplomacy with Iran following speculation that Israel might bomb the nuclear facilities of its arch-enemy soon.

The Islamic state has put in place the nearly 2,800 centrifuges that the Fordow enrichment site, buried deep inside a mountain, was designed for, and is poised to double the number of them operating to almost 1,400, according to the confidential IAEA report obtained by Reuters.

“They can be started any day. They are ready,” a senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA's investigation said.

If Iran chose to dedicate the new machines to produce higher-grade uranium, it could significantly shorten the time it would require for any bid to build an atomic bomb. Iran says it needs to refine uranium to make reactor fuel.

Tehran has produced about 512 pounds of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010, an increase of 43 kg since August this year, according to the report issued in Vienna.

That could be sufficient for one bomb, security experts say. But the Iranians have fed about 96 kg of the uranium refined to 20 percent of fissile concentration for conversion into fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran, the report said.

Such conversions make it harder for the material to be processed into 90 percent, or bomb-grade, enriched uranium and could be a step by Tehran meant in part to counter Western suspicions of a covert atomic bomb programme.

But the stockpile of 20 percent uranium gas has still grown by nearly 50 percent to 145 kg in the last three months, approaching the amount required for a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA report also said that “extensive activities” at the Parchin military compound – an allusion to suspected Iranian attempts to remove evidence – would seriously undermine an agency investigation into indications that research relevant to developing a nuclear explosive were conducted there.

It is “necessary to have access to this location without further delay”, the report said.

“WINDOW OF TIME” FOR DIPLOMACY?

Tehran denies U.S. and Israeli allegations that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, saying its programme is entirely for peaceful energy. But U.N. inspectors suspect past, and possibly ongoing, military nuclear activity.

Obama this week said he believed there was still a “window of time” to find a peaceful resolution to the long standoff with Iran. But the IAEA report underlined the tough task facing Western powers pressing it to curb its nuclear programme.

Fordow particularly worries the West as it is where Iran refines uranium to 20 percent purity, compared with the 3.5 percent level usually needed for nuclear energy plants.

Iran says it must do this to make fuel for the Tehran research reactor, but it also represents a major technical leap towards the threshold suitable for nuclear weapons.

The fact that Fordow is buried deep underground makes it less vulnerable to any air strikes, which Israel has threatened if diplomacy fails to stop Iran acquiring the means to produce atomic bombs.

The conversion of 20 percent uranium into fuel is reversible as long as it has not been introduced into a working reactor, but it would take a few months to turn it back into gas form.

This may explain why Israel, assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed state, recently signalled that an attack on its arch-enemy's nuclear sites was not imminent, after months of talk that it might be on the cards soon.

The question of when and how quickly Iran might be able to assemble an atom bomb if it chose to do so is hotly debated because it could influence any decision by Israel to take military action – a step many fear would blow up into a broader Middle East war that would batter a stumbling global economy.

The IAEA report said Iran had removed fuel from the core of its first nuclear power plant, near the town of Bushehr on the country's Gulf coast, indicating a possible new problem in operating the long-delayed Russian-built facility.

The diplomat said the plant had been shut down as a result, but gave no further details.

Iran accuses IAEA of demanding Parchin visit to spy


Iran will not allow the United Nations nuclear watchdog to visit Iran’s Parchin military complex, accusing inspectors of being “Western spies.”

Iranian lawmaker Evaz Heidarpour told the national media that the United States and Western countries were trying to gain access to Iran’s military secrets by sending representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the complex.

“Parchin industries are non-nuclear military industries and we will not allow Western spies to inspect our military technology,” he said Sunday, according to the Tehran Times.

The IAEA has insisted on visiting the site in advance of negotiations between the Islamic Republic and six world powers—the United States, France, Russia, China, Britain and Germany—scheduled to take place in Moscow.

In a report last year, the IAEA said it believed that Iran had built a containment chamber at Parchin in which to conduct high-explosives tests.

Earlier this month, new satellite imagery analyzed by a U.S. security think tank showed that Iran may be clearing nuclear evidence from the chamber.

In March, satellite images obtained by the IAEA reportedly showed what appeared to be crews and vehicles cleaning up radioactive evidence of tests of a device used to create a nuclear explosion, The Associated Press reported.

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