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Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
U.S. Pushes IAEA to Probe Suspected Iranian Nuclear Site

Paul Kerr

The United States wants the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to investigate a site where Iran may be conducting tests for a nuclear weapons program, a Department of State official told Arms Control Today Sept. 21.

The official said the site, called the Parchin military complex, has facilities that could “lend themselves” to testing conventional high explosives for use in an implosion-type nuclear weapon. In such weapons, conventional charges compress a core of fissile material in order to start a nuclear chain reaction.

The official said the facilities have vents and duct work indicating that they may be suitable for such tests. Additionally, the “configuration” of some buildings on the site is similar to some found in a high-explosives testing facility Iraq built for its nuclear weapons program prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The United States has been aware of the Parchin site for some time, the official said, adding that work on the suspect facilities appears to have accelerated during the past 18 months.

Although anonymous administration officials have been quoted in press reports as saying that the Parchin site shows Iran’s intention to develop nuclear weapons, the State Department official said such statements went “too far” and that Washington has no compelling evidence Iran has been conducting nuclear weapons activities there.

Nevertheless, the official said Washington and the IAEA share “concerns” about the site. An IAEA official told Arms Control Today that the agency has asked Tehran for permission to visit Parchin, but according to the U.S. official, Iran ignored the request. The U.S. official also confirmed a Sept. 17 Washington Post report that the IAEA first requested to visit the site in June.

Iranian officials first denied that the IAEA had asked to visit Parchin, but in a Sept. 19 television broadcast, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rowhani acknowledged that the agency had done so. Dismissing the reported U.S. characterization of Parchin as a possible nuclear site as a “lie,” Hossein Moussavian, head of Iran’s delegation to the IAEA, said agency inspectors may visit the site if they wish, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Despite the IAEA’s request, the U.S. official argued that the agency should pursue the matter more aggressively, asserting that the IAEA “seems” to have been reluctant to press the issue with Tehran.

The United States wants IAEA inspectors to take environmental samples at the site in an effort to detect any secret nuclear activities. However, such samples may not produce conclusive results, the official acknowledged, arguing that Iran may have already been able to thwart inspectors by removing traces of nuclear materials and otherwise altering the site.

Concerns that Tehran has taken similar measures at other sites have surfaced throughout the IAEA’s two-year-old investigation of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. For example, the IAEA found that Iran altered the interior of a building under agency investigation in an unsuccessful attempt to conceal secret past nuclear activities. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

In June, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher asserted that Iran was trying to conceal nuclear activities by demolishing buildings and removing topsoil at a suspected nuclear site in Tehran. However, Boucher declined to discuss the Parchin site during a Sept. 16 press briefing.