UN inspectors get rare access to suspected Iran nuclear site

Tehran confirmed today that UN inspectors can visit Parchin, a military complex where a chamber for explosives tests has raised concerns about Iran nuclear weapons development.

Herwig Prammer/Reuters
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano attends a board of governors meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna March 5. The United Nations nuclear watchdog chief said on Monday there were indications of 'activities' taking place at an Iranian military site which his inspectors want to visit as part of an investigation into Tehran's atomic activities.

Iran has agreed to let United Nations inspectors into a military complex suspected of nuclear weapons development, a day after the top inspector warned he had "serious concerns" over activities at the site.

The semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency reported Tuesday that Iran's mission to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna confirmed inspectors would be allowed to visit the Parchin military complex, located near Tehran. "Parchin is a military site and accessing it is a time-consuming process, therefore visits cannot be allowed frequently ... We will allow the IAEA to visit it one more time," the statement said.

The Parchin complex is a weapons development site, reports Al Jazeera English, where Iran built a large containment chamber to conduct explosives tests, according to an IAEA report last year. The report said that such tests were "strong indicators" of nuclear weapons development. Reuters notes that IAEA inspectors last saw the Parchin site in 2005, but did not see the location where the chamber is now believed to be built.

The IAEA requested access to Parchin in February, but were denied by Iran, which says its nuclear program is peaceful. Al Jazeera adds that Iranian diplomats and IAEA officials have yet to comment on the report, which did not set a date for the inspectors' visit.

The Iranian Students' News Agency report comes just a day after IAEA chief Yukiya Amano expressed "serious concerns" over Parchin. The Associated Press reports that Mr. Amano said there were indications of new activity at the site, which meant that "going there sooner is better than later" for the UN inspectors. AP notes that Amano did not offer an opinion as to whether he believed the activity was linked to suspected new weapons experiments or attempts to clean up previous alleged work.

Also on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept up the drumbeat for war with Iran, telling a conference at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that time was running out to act on Iran's nuclear program, reports BBC News. "Israel has waited for diplomacy to work, we've waited for sanctions to work. None of us can afford to wait much longer," he said. 

"The Jewish state will not allow those who seek our destruction the means to achieve that goal. A nuclear armed Iran must be stopped," Mr. Netanyahu said during his keynote speech.

But despite Netanyahu's continued willingness for Israeli unilateral military action against Iran, Time Magazine's Tony Karon notes that, "at a tactical level at least, Israel has become isolated by the many months of saber rattling in the form of statements, leaks and military exercises designed to signal that it might be about to launch air strikes on Iran."

While key Western European countries have joined Washington in imposing unprecedented, crippling sanctions on Iran, none of them supports a military option right now. Instead, Israel’s closest Western allies — the U.S., France, Britain and Germany — have lately been devoting diplomatic energy to restraining the Israelis from starting a war, which is not a position with which the Israelis are entirely comfortable.

The Israeli government may be further constrained from acting unilaterally against Iran by public opinion within Israel. As The Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy noted last week, a new poll of the Israeli public found that only 22 percent of Israeli Jews supported a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities without US backing. Some 43 percent favored striking Iran only with US support, with 32 percent opposed to any sort of strike.

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