Iran's Parchin complex: Why are nuclear inspectors so focused on it?
The IAEA's determination to gain access to Parchin, an Iranian military complex that may hold clues to past weapons-related work, is unusual and could jeopardize its credibility.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Parchin has been turned into a high-profile test case of Iran's willingness to be transparent by the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, which says it has new information on past weapons-related activities there, and seeks access to the site for the first time in seven years.
But veteran inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say the singular focus on visiting Parchin is a departure for the Agency that could jeopardize its credibility, considering the host of issues that remain between the IAEA and Iran. Also unusual is how open and specific the IAEA has been about what exactly it wants to see, which could yield doubts about the credibility of any eventual inspection.
"I'm puzzled that the IAEA wants to in this case specify the building in advance, because you end up with this awkward situation," says Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's head of safeguards until mid-2010.
"First of all, if it gets delayed it can be sanitized. And it's not very good for Iran. Let's assume [inspectors] finally get there and they find nothing. People will say, 'Oh, it's because Iran has sanitized it,'" says Mr. Heinonen, who is now at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "But in reality it may have not been sanitized. Iran is also a loser in that case. I don't know why [the IAEA] approach it this way, which was not a standard practice; but they may have a reason."
The questions about Parchin come as Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said this week that Tehran is ready to resolve all questions about its nuclear program "very quickly and simply."
That promise comes amid a backdrop of threats of military action by Israel or the US, or both, to strike Iran's nuclear facilities; but also amid positive initial signals toward a diplomatic solution.
Iran and world powers – including the US, Russia, and China – last week resumed nuclear talks for the first time in 15 months. Both sides say concrete progress is possible at the next round on May 23 in Baghdad, if Iran agrees to limit its uranium enrichment and open completely to inspections, and if the world powers begin lifting crippling sanctions.
Previous inspections at Parchin
IAEA inspectors in January and November 2005 were given access to Parchin, a sprawling military base so large that it includes hundreds of buildings and underground structures.