The interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the United States is aimed at capping or reducing Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium and delaying the moment of possible nuclear breakout as the U.S. and its allies negotiate a more comprehensive deal. But a significant aspect of the nuclear program has been left for the final rounds of negotiations: namely, Iran’s potential nuclear military and weaponization components.
Now a May 8th brief from the Institute for Science and International Security, authored by David Albright and Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, suggests that Iran is continuing activities at the Parchin military site outside Tehran, a facility thought to have been used for research into nuclear weaponization.
Satellite imagery dated April 25th, 2014, “shows renewed signs of external activity” at Parchin, according to the report. This “activity” sounds fairly innocuous — but Iran has blocked the site from International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, despite evidence in 2012 that tests related to nuclear weaponization had taken place there. In Albright and Kelleher-Vergantini’s view, any additional activity at the facility could be cause for alarm. Even things like this:
Two trucks or containers have been removed from the area surrounding the suspected high explosives test building, while a larger object, possibly a truck or large container, appears slightly north of it. Dirt or water runoff is visible in front of the northern building (as if there has been a spill or machinery is being cleaned given that the water colour indicates the presence of dust, dirt, or soap), and three vehicles are clearly visible at the south entrance.
There are credible reports that Parchin is the site of a “metal cylinder the size of a semi-trailer” built with the assistance of a Russian nuclear scientist. The cylinder might have been used to construct and test a neutron initiator, the device that kickstarts a nuclear warhead’s fissile process. Some experts dispute the conclusion that Parchin has been used for testing nuclear warhead components, and a jump in “external activity” at the facility doesn’t automatically prove that Iran is continuing its weaponization drive. News of the cylinder and neutron initiator’s construction is several years old.
But Parchin still demonstrates some of the blind spots in the US and its allies’ monitoring of Iran’s program even after the interim agreement. And with negotiations restarting in Vienna this week, it’s a reminder that there are issues other than enrichment standing in the way of a potential long-term resoluation to the Iranian nuclear standoff.
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