The probe of alleged Iranian nuclear weapons work cleared a major hurdle when a long-sought inspection was conducted at the Parchin military complex, UN nuclear chief Yukiya Amano said Monday, while criticizing Iran for possible cover-up activities.
Iran had been blocking the investigation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for years, and both sides had tussled over access to Parchin, which is central to the probe because of suspicions that high-explosives testing with nuclear materials happened there to develop a warhead.
Iran started cooperating after it closed its far-ranging deal with six world powers in July.
The deal is to result in the lifting of sanctions, once Iran scales down its civilian nuclear programme and answers the IAEA’s questions about a dozen suspect research and development projects that were conducted in the past.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Iranian experts had taken dust samples at the military complex, following strict IAEA instructions.
“The process was carried out under our responsibility and monitoring,” he told reporters, adding that this happened before he visited Parchin himself on Sunday.
The samples have been brought to Vienna and will be analyzed for minute nuclear traces that could confirm whether the incriminating experiments were carried out in Parchin, as Western intelligence findings suggest.
On Sunday, the IAEA had only confirmed that Amano and his deputy had been at Parchin, without clarifying whether Iran had finally allowed actual verification work to be conducted there.
Amano said he had seen that the building used for the alleged experiments had been recently renovated and stripped of all equipment, which could have removed tell-tale nuclear traces.
“The extensive work that has been conducted at the location since 2012 undermines the agency’s ability to conduct effective verification procedures,” he criticized.
In a previous inspection at a different Iranian site that had been repainted, IAEA inspectors were able to find nuclear particles by collecting dust samples from rafters under the roof.
Direct IAEA access to Parchin had been one of the contentious issues in Iran’s talks with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.
Some forces in the Islamic republic’s leadership were opposed to such inspections, while President Hassan Rowhani brought up the possibility of an involvement of Iranian experts.
Usually, IAEA inspectors themselves take the samples when they visit nuclear facilities around the world, but in some cases, this task has been handed to officials of the country under investigation, Amano said.
“The IAEA team was not in the facility” when the samples were taken, the spokesman of Iran’s government nuclear agency said Monday, according to the IRNA news agency.
However, IAEA chief inspector Tero Varjoranta explained in Vienna that the Iranians had followed a detailed step-by-step process devised by his agency, including instructions where to take samples, equipment provided by the IAEA, and video monitoring.
Renovations at Parchin began soon after the IAEA had reported in late 2011 that intelligence findings and other information indicated an effort to develop a nuclear warhead.
Tehran has denied any such plans. Iranian officials have said that some of the 12 research and development projects highlighted by the IAEA had non-military aims, and that some of the incriminating information had been forged by foreign spy agencies.
Amano is scheduled to issue his final report on the investigation in mid-December.