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Satellite images suggest Iran cleaning up past nuclear weapons-related work

A report by the Institute for Science and International Security says a new image of Iran's Parchin military complex 'raises concerns that Iran is attempting to raze the site prior to allowing an IAEA visit.'

By Staff writer / May 31, 2012

This May 25, left, and April 9, combination photo provided by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) shows evidence of extensive earth dumping in the pond to the north of a high explosive test site and signs of fresh traffic on the road leading to the pond.

Courtesy of ISIS/AP


Istanbul, Turkey

Updated at 2:19 p.m. on May 31, 2012.

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United Nations weapons inspectors yesterday shared satellite images that suggest Iran may be cleaning up evidence of past nuclear weapons-related work, at a suspect military site inspectors have been seeking to visit.

At a closed-door briefing in Vienna, the deputy head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Herman Nackaerts, showed diplomats several satellite images taken over the past half-year of Iran's sprawling Parchin military complex.

The latest image, dated May 25, showed the apparent destruction of two or possibly three small buildings relatively close to the main structure – which had all been intact in earlier images.

“Iran is worried that the agency might find something there. Otherwise it wouldn’t be going through the sanitization process,” a senior Western official told Reuters.

Similar satellite images were later published by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a Washington think tank that tracks nuclear developments, and is used by the IAEA as a conduit for making "restricted" reports public.

The latest image appeared to show "further sanitization activity," ISIS said in a brief analysis about the “razed” buildings. "There are visible tracks made by heavy machinery used in the demolition process," and "extensive evidence of earth displacement."

But Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's head of safeguards until two years ago, says it's hard to know for sure the nature of those activities.

"Without having actual access to Parchin, one cannot say much what is really happening there," says Mr. Heinonen, now at Harvard University's Belfer Center  for Science and International Affairs in Cambridge, Ma.
 "It is important that the IAEA has the access soon to the site to establish facts, but the Agency should, in my view, also think at the same time how to approach such confrontational topics without sacrificing the success of the mission," says Heinonen. "A lower key, less specific request could have perhaps been more beneficial, but the Agency may have had its reasons to proceed this way."

Iran: Western fears 'childish'

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's representative to the IAEA, has said in the past that Western and IAEA fears about Parchin were "childish" and "ridiculous." After yesterday's presentation in Vienna, Mr. Soltanieh told journalists that "this kind of noise and allegations are baseless," according to Reuters.


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