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IAEA worried about “activities” at Iran site

(Reuters) / 29 February 2012

VIENNA - The UN nuclear watchdog believes unspecified “activities” may be taking place at Iran’s Parchin military facility that make its request to visit the site more urgent, Western diplomats said on Wednesday.

It was unclear what kind of activities the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) suspected, or whether it thought Iran might be trying to clean the site or conceal something ahead of a possible visit. Diplomats said the agency was monitoring the site via satellite images.

One diplomat present at a closed-door briefing for IAEA member states in Vienna on Wednesday at which the disclosure was made quoted IAEA chief inspector Herman Nackaerts as saying there “may be some ongoing activities at Parchin which add urgency to why we want to go”.

According to another diplomat at the briefing, Nackaerts said the agency had also received information about the issue from a member state, without giving details. Nackaerts was reportedly asked by one of the diplomats present whether Iran might be trying to clean the Parchin site.

“I think some of the reports we have heard about possible sanitation of the site (are) very concerning,” said a third, Western diplomat. “It is very clear that Iran doesn’t want the agency to go to Parchin because it has something to hide.”

The IAEA was not immediately available for comment.

In Iran, a senior official said it was up to Iran’s military to decide if U.N. inspectors would be allowed to visit Parchin.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, as saying that IAEA inspectors could in theory visit Parchin “whenever they want”.

But it then quoted him as saying: “Whether or not IAEA inspectors can visit Parchin will be a decision for the country’s military officials”.

He said his own organisation was under no obligation “to show them anywhere they ask to visit in the country”.

The IAEA asked to visit Parchin, a military complex southeast of Tehran, after issuing a report in November that suggested Iran was pursuing military nuclear technology, an allegation it denies. The report helped trigger the latest round of U.S. and EU sanctions on Iran.

Despite talks with Nackaerts’s team in January and February, Iran has not agreed to the request.

The report said the IAEA had information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin to conduct high-explosives tests.

Suspicions about activities at the Parchin complex date back to at least 2004, when a prominent nuclear expert said satellite images showed it might be a site for research and testing relevant to nuclear weapons.

U.N. inspectors did in fact visit Parchin in 2005. But they did not see the place where the IAEA now believes the explosives chamber was built.

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