Jeffrey LewisKelley on Parchin

Bob Kelley sends along a rather different view than my own more jaded take on the “landscaping” activities at Parchin.  Bob believes the Iranians are not be sanitizing the area near the test chamber at Parchin, but rather laying the foundation for a new structure.

“Time will tell,” Bob says — and I suppose he’s right about that. I am eager to see the next set of images from Parchin.

Shooting at a Phantom?

Robert Kelley

There is a fascinating public discussion going-on about something that probably never happened.  The Director General of the IAEA says that Iran is cleaning up the Parchin alleged hydrodynamic uranium concealment site by moving fences and moving earth.  The US representative to the IAEA says that Iran is sanitizing the Parchin site and that this is suspicious behavior.

An example is the mischaracterization of what is happening at the alleged uranium explosives test chamber at Parchin.  ISIS has given us the most recent imagery of the alleged sanitization activities at the Parchin alleged hydrodynamic test chamber site.  They show three possible sites of earth moving activities.  All of these activities are outside the site in question except for a tiny area in the southwest corner.  The suspect site is not being sanitized at all by earth moving.  If anything is actually occurring it is outside and adjacent to the site in question.

The southernmost alleged area of earth displacement is an area almost entirely outside the alleged test site.  It is an area that has always had straight borders and is without trees, unlike adjacent areas covered with artificial forests.  The activity there looks remarkably like earth moving to create a foundation for a new structure.  Time will tell.  Earth moving here cannot be conceivably for covert sanitization purposes, located far from the test building and outside the fence, especially if similar area inside the fence is untouched.

The central area of “displaced earth” is outside the personnel fence of the alleged site, not near the building.  This area has trees or bushes in a man-made dying artificial forest and anthropogenic scrapings that have been visible for over ten years in multiple images.  Those trees are still visible in the image of alleged earth displacement making it hard to believe that unseen, but alleged, earth displacement is taking place around some old bushes without simply removing them.

Finally there is alleged earth displacement outside the northern fence of the alleged Iranian explosive test facility.  The contrast of the published ISIS image is very poor but some aspects of this old dump site can be seen.  The site has long been visible as a dump site for hundreds of dump truck loads of earth going back to at least March 2000.  One cannot make any further claim about this area based upon the image published by ISIS but macro features of the old dump are visible in May 2012 making it uncertain that any earth has been scraped whatsoever.

The Director General of the IAEA is reinforcing claims of the US member of the IAEA Board of Governors that the Parchin site is being sanitized, when it is clear that only one area outside the boundaries of that site may be in the process of being cleared for unknown purposes.  The area next to the test building, where any random uranium contamination might have occurred and is the area that would need sanitizations remains untouched.  The alleged suspicious activity is outside the fence, and in some cases is probably not even occurring.  When trees and features up to 12 years old have not been disturbed it is incredible to say they are being sanitized.

Iran should be asked to explain why they are leveling a field outside the boundaries of a non-nuclear site not subject to IAEA inspections.  They may choose not to answer.  The Director General should be asked to explain why he characterizes minor landscaping activities outside the boundaries of a site that troubles him, as sanitization and worrying.  He too may not choose to answer.


  1. Amir (History)

    It is very funny. Iran plays this game very well:
    1- West claims there is suspicious activity in Parchin.
    2-Iran deny it.But at the same time behave in such a way to reinforce their suspicion.
    3-West insists, Iran deny for a long time.
    4-Finally Iran will let them go and test the area after a long long dispute.
    5-They do not find anything and their credibility in eyes of their own people decrease while Iran’s credibility increase.
    6- This gives Iran some room to do real nuclear activity in the future, since West lost the credibility it would be much easier for Iran to start a covert program if it wanted.

    • Johnboy (History)

      Hmmm, I now have a (frankly, rather disturbing) image in my mind of Amano dressed as a shepardboy, running into the IAEA Board of Director’s meeting yelling “Wolf!! Wolf!!” at the top of his lungs.

  2. magoo (History)

    Amano reinforcing US claims of the Parchin site being sanitised,is not an isolated occurrence and needs to be viewed in the larger polemical matrix. One cannot conveniently shelve the phenomenal efforts by Washington in terms of political capital in ensuring his hotly contested election to the post of DG of the IAEA. He shows signs of being a partisan player that has been foisted to that post to serve the interests of his mentors, and must be factored into the picture where hard intelligence is non-existent and innuendos is all that logic is being developed on. – Magoo

  3. Rob Goldston (History)

    What about the small buildings that were razed, the objects lined up outside of the suspected building, and the flow of water, according to ISIS, if I read them right?

    • Johnboy (History)

      Rob, I believe that the argument that Kelly is making is that none of those activities were taking place anywhere near enough to the “suspected building” for them to make any difference one way or the other.

      Parchin is a WORKING site spread out over a HUGE area, and so you should **expect** building activity to be going on there all the time.

      But the point that Kelly is making is that out of that huge area the area that is said to be of interest to the IAEA is small, and there is nothing particularly alarming happening in *that* area at all.

    • Robert Kelley (History)

      Good points Rob. As I have previously noted, removing uranium contaminated components from a building, lining them up on a parking lot and fire housing them is a gift to the IAEA sampling teams. They have razed one building for sure spreading debris over a large area. Normally when you decontaminate something you don’t violently demolish it spreading contamination around. Note the care with which people demolish asbestos contaminated structures to reduce contamination and not spread it. The “sanitization” efforts to date at the Parchin site suggest Iran is incompetent at hiding contamination or they are not afraid of IAEA inspections. IAEA should be preparing alternative press releases to explain what they do or not find after their eventual visit.

  4. SPurcell (History)

    I’ve always thought that ISIS has valuable images, but should have less commentary and speculation — and less prescriptions of what “should be done” about what they report in their images/reports. Some of their prescriptions are taken by the press as being the correct legal course when they often are not.

    I thank Bob Kelley for his input.

  5. Rob Goldston (History)

    The May 30 ISIS report calls the building in the center of the picture “building suspected to contain high-explosive testing chamber”, and the activities I mentioned are within 1.5 lengths of that building. There are objects lined up just in front of the building and water pouring out of the direct building area. The displaced dirt is within about 10 building lengths.

    • Robert Kelley (History)

      Hi Rob. I think you missed the point. The disturbed earth has not been disturbed. The trees/bushes/scrapings that have been there for 12 years are still there to the extent we can tell on this poor quality image. Look at all the historical images on Google earth. And even if they are sanitizing outside the boundaries of the site, why would they not sanitize closer to the source of alleged contamination? Is this not a physical principle that closer to the source the contamination will be greater? What about that nasty cliff just to the west hanging over the site? Are they going to get around to cleaning it?

  6. David Albright (History)

    I thought I would post what we wrote in our last report on Parchin (see below). I would also like to bring the discussion back to the site itself that lies within the larger Parchin complex. The issue is primarily what has happened within the site boundary of this facility alleged to have been involved in high explosive testing related to nuclear weapons development. What attracted our attention in the most recent image was the tearing down of two building within that perimeter. A test chamber would be expected to have additional structures for control and instrumentation and other support functions, and thus adjacent buildings naturally attract interest. Earth movement both within and adjacent to this site also raises suspicion, particularly since it is happening after many years of no activity. Moreover, we did not note this in our report, but the perimeter fence of this site appears to have been removed. One thing we are watching is whether Iran after removing buildings starts to remove earth or conduct other activities that could involve cleaning the site to prevent or make extremely difficult environmental monitoring.

    Kelley is right that time will tell. But he knows that after years of no activity, sudden activity at a specific site that the IAEA has asked to visit will inevitably cause suspicion and concern, especially in Iran which has acted to deceive the inspectors on several occasions. What I take issue with is an attempt to excuse Iran’s behavior at this site in Parchin as not worthy of IAEA concern or due to acting in the interests of others’ agendas.

    From our earlier report: Satellite imagery obtained by ISIS shows what appears to be further sanitization activity at the site in the Parchin military complex where Iran is suspected to have conducted high explosive tests pertinent to the development of nuclear weapons.

    DigitalGlobe satellite imagery from May 25, 2012 shows that two small buildings at the same site as the suspected testing chamber have been razed (figure 1). There are visible tracks made by heavy machinery used in the demolition process. Heavy machinery tracks and extensive evidence of earth displacement are also visible throughout the interior as well as the exterior of the site’s perimeter (figures 2 and 5).

    This new round of activity has followed suspected cleanup activities in the explosives testing chamber building, which are visible in an April 9, 2012 satellite image published in an earlier ISIS report (figure 4). In the April 9, 2012 image, the two support buildings are intact (figure 3).

    These activities raise further concerns of Iranian efforts to destroy evidence of alleged past nuclear weaponization activities. The IAEA has asked repeatedly to visit this site, but so far Iran has refused. In the May 25, 2012 IAEA safeguards report on Iran, the IAEA stated that “based on satellite imagery, at this location, where virtually no activity had been observed for a number of years, the buildings of interest to the Agency are now subject to extensive activities that could hamper the Agency’s ability to undertake effective verification.”

    The newest image raises concerns that Iran is attempting to raze the site prior to allowing an IAEA visit. The razing of the two buildings may also indicate that Iran has no intention to allow inspectors access soon. In 2004, Iran razed the Lavisan-Shian site, which held the Physics Research Center (PHRC), interfering with the ability of the IAEA to investigate allegations that the PHRC was involved in military nuclear activities.

    Iran should immediately allow the IAEA access to Parchin and explain the significance of these apparent cleanup activities.

    • SPurcell (History)

      “Iran should immediately allow the IAEA access…”

      David, as I mentioned, I think ISIS provides valuable images and information but you weaken your case when you go from technical information to declarative statements about what Iran “should” do.

      I agree Iran “should” allow access. But this is personal preference.

      I also think IAEA “should” not be acting in the way it is — as Bob Kelley reports.

      Furthermore, the IAEA “could” have launched special inspections or arbitration (as others have posted in Mark Hibbs’ post) if the IAEA had followed the legally prescribed procedure.

      So there are plenty of things all sides “should” be doing but are not.

      The main problem is that things are being handled in an ad hoc way because the IAEA has — wrongly, in my view — lost authority over Iran’s case and it now rests with the UNSC.

      As I said, I really suggest ISIS stick to providing images and technical analysis (on other countries would be good also, btw), and steer clear of declarative statements of your personal preference. The problem is that many in the press confuse your personal preferences with the law.

      For a review of the relevant legal issues see, e.g.:

  7. David Albright (History)

    On the use of “should allow access,” it is an ISIS recommendation reviewed by the staff and others. If we thought it was legally required we probably would have said “must” or something similar. We have never encountered a journalist who equated our use of “should” in the form of a recommendation with taking a legal position on that issue.

    In terms of the legal issues, I trust the IAEA has legally justified its actions for the use of phrases such as urges Iran to allow access to Parchin. The use of special inspections is fraught with difficulty and makes the issue highly confrontational. The IAEA in discussions with Iran has sought, so far unsuccessfully, to find a way forward to deal with the issues centering on the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. I am not familiar with the role of arbitration you mentioned.

    The IAEA remains responsible for assessing Iran’s compliance under the NPT. It has been explicit and repeatedly stated that it is unable to provide credible assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities. It has assembled a large and detailed set of information that raises a fundamental question about Iran’s compliance with the core requirements of the NPT. Was Iran in violation, or does it continue to violate, its basic obligations under the NPT about making nuclear weapons. You may not like us making recommendations about the IAEA’s verification activities but we see them as essential to our work and they flow very easily from our analysis.

    With regard to what Kelley recommended I would like to mention two statements that are not true

    1) “The Director General should be asked to explain why he characterizes minor landscaping activities outside the boundaries of a site that troubles him, as sanitization and worrying.” The DG never said that, or at best this recommendation seeks to avoid the real issues.

    2) “The Director General of the IAEA is reinforcing claims of the US member of the IAEA Board of Governors that the Parchin site is being sanitized, when it is clear that only one area outside the boundaries of that site may be in the process of being cleared for unknown purposes.” This statement mischaracterizes the issue by ignoring what has happened on the site itself It also fails to note that the DG said it first, and the US subsequently supported it in its own terms, which we are free to argue whether is overstated or not.

    • SPurcell (History)

      “On the use of “should allow access,” it is an ISIS recommendation reviewed by the staff and others. If we thought it was legally required we probably would have said “must” or something similar.”

      Thank you for making that clear.

      Are there any international law experts on the ISIS staff who review your recommendations?

    • Robert Kelley (History)

      Reported comments of Yukiya Amano in the press.

      Maybe this could be considered as ambiguous or maybe he has been badly advised about reported earth movements.

      “The satellite imagery indicates that these activities include the use of water, demolishing of buildings, removing fences and moving soil,” Amano told a news conference.

      “These are some of the activities that we have observed through satellite imagery,” he said, expressing concern that they could hamper the agency’s efforts to find out what has been going on at the site, if and when it gains access.

  8. Sharif (History)

    David Albright may be right that modifications at Lavisan-Shian interfered with IAEA investigations but note that the IAEA resolved that issue in Iran’s favor.

    Under Iran’s Comprehensive safeguards agreement the IAEA was only responsible for checking inventory of declared nuclear materials at declared facilities. There is a whole complicated Code 3.1 (regular vs. modified) issue that clouds the issue of what should have been declared when. I tend to agree with Purcell that it appears that Iran is being hounded in an unprofessional manner. Under Iran’s CSA it could have undertaken conventional explosives experiments with no IAEA oversight. Also, this was 10 years or more ago.

    • David Albright (History)

      Lavisan Shian was never resolved. The razing was so complete and access so delayed that environmental sampling could not be done. Iran also refused to allow the IAEA to sample the rubble. It was willing to answer only a few of the IAEA’s questions about the center’s activities related to a parallel military fuel cycle. Moreover, the nuclear activities of the Physics Research Center, which was housed there, remain a major sticking point for the IAEA.

      The characterization of the IAEA’s responsibilities is a real throw back to the days of the 1980s, when cheating was easy, as amply demonstrated by Iraq. This overly narrow view was soundly rejected, leading to the reform in safeguards that occurred after 1991. This work led to the Additional Protocol but also to considerable work on how to better utilize the IAEA’s powers under traditional safeguards agreements.

    • Johnboy (History)

      DA: “The characterization of the IAEA’s responsibilities is a real throw back to the days of the 1980s, when cheating was easy, as amply demonstrated by Iraq.”

      I have a real problem with where David takes this argument, because he uses it to argue that it is A-OK for the IAEA to unilaterally expand its responsibilities.

      That’s not how agreements work, David.

      DA: “This overly narrow view was soundly rejected, leading to the reform in safeguards that occurred after 1991.”

      Again, that only becomes important if Iran is bound by those “reforms”.

      Iran says it isn’t, and their argument is much stronger than yours.

      DA: “This work led to the Additional Protocol but also to considerable work on how to better utilize the IAEA’s powers under traditional safeguards agreements.”

      Our weasel-words for today are “considerable work” and “better utilize”.

      David is attempting to claim that the IAEA can unilaterally redefine what the safeguards agreements mean, even *if* Iran begs to differ.

      Sorry, David, but under those circumstances you can’t simply claim that “what the IAEA says, goes”.

      If the IAEA wants to redefine its “responsibilities” under previous agreements and Iran says “no” then that is, surely, a matter for outside arbitration, not for unilateral declarations.

  9. David Albright (History)

    We use consultants if legal questions come up. Do you include the IAEA legal department’s views on the issues you are discussing?

    • Sharif (History)

      The IAEA is one party to the Iran-IAEA CSA. One would also need to include the views of Iran’s legal department if we are getting into this game.

      I will go with the views of Dan Joyner –who wrote 2 books on the NPT– linked to above.

      I believe Iran should open up the site at Parchin, but should not be obligated to so do. This is because under the original agreement only fissile material sites need to be opened up to inventory. Conventional explosives were not covered in the original CSA. So, now, to go and insist that Iran open up Parchin is a bit rich: at most, you will find they did some conventional explosions (not illegal) — more likely you will find nothing incriminating:

      If nothing is found ISIS will say it was cleaned up: so what is the point? Either they did something bad but legal, or nothing bad, or it will be cleaned. None of this makes progress. The alleged activities were 10 years ago. Iran is now in compliance with its CSA.

      If we are getting into what nations “should” do, then we need to also stop our military threats against Iran, as this violates UNSCR 487.

      Lastly, the source of the trace HEU found at Lavisan was indeed resolved in Iran’s favor. Other non-fissile related activities are not relevant.

    • Johnboy (History)

      “We use consultants if legal questions come up. Do you include the IAEA legal department’s views on the issues you are discussing?”

      I believe that Sharif has made a telling rebuttal i.e. did you include the Iranian legal department’s views in your deliberations on these legal questions?

      The answer appears to be no.

      It appears that you credit the legal arguments of only one of the two parties in this dispute, which would mean that you are being “partisan”.

      Fair enough, I suppose, but at least be honest enough to admit that.

  10. Mohammad (History)

    Suppose that Iran used the alleged facility to conduct some highly sensitive conventional (not nuclear-related) military research. In that case, isn’t it natural that Iran tries to remove indications of the nature of the research, while also trying to allow inspections to relieve pressure?

    Another question which has been lingering a long time in my mind, is: how much is the possibility that the PMD documents have been forged in a very brilliant way by the resourceful intelligence agencies of US and its allies, so as to pressure Iran to either be seen as developing nuclear weapons, or to compromise some of its sensitive military/non-weapons nuclear research and development, making them easier to target? I mean, we already know that something similar happened to UNSCOM inspections in Iraq.

    Both of these questions come easy to mind, but I wonder why I haven’t seen them systematically addressed anywhere. Either everyone is overlooking these possibilities, or something’s wrong with my knowledge of the affairs. I will be thankful for any answers.

  11. David Albright (History)

    Some may not like the IAEA doing a better job; perhaps they prefer the weak safeguards of the 1980s. But the IAEA needed to reform safeguards in the 1990s and it did so in conjunction with the Board of Governors and the member states. The changes and additional interpretations were widely discussed and agreed upon. The NPT is stronger today as a result. Thank god it is not subject to arbitration of the type mentioned above.

    Sharif, HEU was not detected at Lavisan Shian. The HEU was detected elsewhere.

    The IAEA has stated that it urges Iran to allow access to Parchin. As far as I know it has not argued so far that it has a legal right to inspect Parchin. That to me is the best approach. The other is to invite a confrontation and escalation to the Board of Governors. But consider if Iran used kilograms of natural uranium metal in high explosive tests. Some have said they did so in hydrodynamic tests (although the basis of these claims is not provided). They have asserted this in the context of discussing how hard it would be to hide the presence of this uranium from environmental sampling. We at ISIS have been careful not to assert that it did use kilogram quantities of uranium metal; the IAEA has not said that publicly, although it has discussed a discrepancy in uranium metal balances in the 1990s at a nuclear site. We have our own list of possibilities for the explosive tests that concern the IAEA, but we do not know the specifics. Some involve only grams of uranium in a test of a neutron initiator (uranium deuteride) or no uranium at all. But let me ask. If kilograms of uranium metal were used at Parchin, then is that not a diversion under the safeguards agreement? Any diversion would appear to be small, but the use of natural uranium metal in a hydrodynamic test that is part of making nuclear weapons would appear to violate the spirit if not the letter of the NPT.

    • Sharif (History)

      @albright: “Some may not like the IAEA doing a better job; perhaps they prefer the weak safeguards of the 1980s. But the IAEA needed to reform safeguards in the 1990s and it did so in conjunction with the Board of Governors and the member states. ”

      I am actually sympathetic to your view of stronger IAEA safeguards.

      What you fail to understand is that it is not up to you or anyone else to unilaterally decide what the safeguard level should be or the intrusiveness of inspections yesterday, today or tomorrow: these are carefully calibrated in the CSA, which also spells out how to respond to arguments between Iran and the IAEA: arbitration or special inspections.

      Yes, the IAEA in the 1990s reformed some safeguards but the most important bit, the Additional Protocol, is a VOLUNTARY measure. Brazil, Argentina, also enrich without the AP.

      So it is ok if you are frustrated that the IAEA does not have more teeth than it does, but it does not have more teeth than it does.

      I would also like the IAEA to have more teeth to prosecute the P5 for not living up to their disarmament aims (and instead modernizing), but you don’t see me making a fuss about that in public and rarely in private.

      The IAEA also encourages P5 nations to help set-up developing nations’ nuclear sectors — that also (thankfully) is not happening.

    • Johnboy (History)

      DA: “Some may not like the IAEA doing a better job; perhaps they prefer the weak safeguards of the 1980s.”

      That is a motherhood statement, rather aking to my “preference” that I be elected King of Londinium and allowed to wear a shiny hat.

      But wishes are just wishes, and no matter how much I wish, wish, wish, it I know that a kingdom is not going to come my way.

      DA: “But the IAEA needed to reform safeguards in the 1990s and it did so in conjunction with the Board of Governors and the member states. The changes and additional interpretations were widely discussed and agreed upon. The NPT is stronger today as a result. Thank god it is not subject to arbitration of the type mentioned above. ”

      I will now point out the obvious sleight-of-hand that David just pulled i.e. he claimed that changes to safeguards agreements is a COLLECTIVE decision of the member states.

      That is simply not true i.e. the NPT clearly says that safeguards agreements are INDIVIDUALLY negotiated between the IAEA and each member state.

      So while I’m happy to accept the idea that COLLECTIVELY the member states think that it’s a smashing idea – absolutely wizard, ol’ boy – for these agreements to be “strengthened”.

      Big Whoopie. The IAEA still has to get each and every member state to individually agree to that “strengthening”, and in the case of Iran that member state says “nope”.

      Iran is allowed to say “nope”, David, and wish, wish, wishing that it were otherwise doesn’t make it so.

  12. David Albright (History)

    Anyway, Johnboy and Sharif persist in misinterpreting IAEA safeguards and the IAEA’s authorities. I also see that Sharif cannot allow for an actual violation of the NPT in the case of hydrodynamic tests. Why does that not surprise me.

  13. anon2 (History)


    Well written responses. Thanks for contributing here.


    • Jeffrey (History)

      Here, here. And kudos for your patience, too.

  14. Robert Kelley (History)

    It is not the job of the Office of Legal Affairs at IAEA to explain satellite images to Amano. The question is, who at the IAEA is brave enough to take the most recent images into Amano’s’s office and carefully explain that most of this hullabaloo is taking place outside the boundaries of the possible detonation chamber building site? Are they going to show him that some of the alleged diggings outside the fence have not disturbed the old vegetation? Will they show him that the areas of earth adjacent to the building still have the vegetation intact and are not being bulldozed? The parking lot, presumably now impregnated with contamination, has not been dug up yet and the soil all around the building didn’t appear to be washed down.
    We all want a stronger IAEA and it starts with accuracy and careful analysis. At the very least, Amano needs to hear the whole story, not just the spin.
    Iran, on the other hand, is behaving despicably by introducing all of this clutter into a site that is obviously under close observation. Is it accidental or just plain malicious?

  15. WFR (History)


    “There is a fascinating public discussion going-on about something that probably never happened.”

    “The alleged suspicious activity is outside the fence, and in some cases is probably not even occurring.”

    “Iran… is behaving despicably by introducing all of this clutter into a site that is obviously under close observation.”

    So Iran is introducing “clutter” into a site where something probably never happened, and this is described as “despicable”.

    I’m not entirely sure I follow the logic.

    • Robert Kelley (History)

      My point is simply that Iran knows this site is under intensive observation and that anything that happens there will get great scrutiny. I think they are teasing the international community with these activities. Note also, that if the activities are only near the building but do not include sanitizing the interior or land immediately adjacent to it, then the principle area of interest may still be pristine. In any case, Iran’s actions will muddy the waters for all points of view if IAEA eventually gets in. Iran has destroyed any chance of objective conclusions with its activities.

    • wfr (History)

      To my mind, either Iran:

      (i)Did something which it doesn’t want the IAEA to find, in which case it will try and disguise the fact – and even then may not allow the IAEA access; or

      (ii) It didn’t do anything that the IAEA will detect, in which case it would let the IAEA in, prove it was “innocent” and blow the IAEA case out of the water.

      You appear to suggest a third option…

      (iii) Iran didn’t do anything it shouldn’t have, but wants to give the impression that it did in order to provide the IAEA with an excuse when it doesn’t find anything??!!

      I just don’t see the motivation for option (iii), but maybe I’m just not good at thinking imaginatively…

    • Mohammad (History)

      How about a fourth option, that Iran did something non-nuclear-related which it doesn’t want the IAEA to find? After all, Parchin is a major military site. Do you see this a plausible possibility?

      I’m really curious that why Iran’s apparently legitimate confidentiality concerns aren’t addressed anywhere (see my comment above).

    • Mohammad (History)

      Just to clarify: the above comment was addressed towards WFR.

    • wfr (History)

      If Iran did something non-nuclear in that little building nearly a decade ago, the IAEA won’t be able to detect it – so don’t worry on that score.

    • Mohammad (History)


      So I guess the same thing can be said of nuclear-related non-radioactive things? (say, a warhead testing facility) That is, “if Iran did something nuclear-weaponization-related but not involving radioactive material in that little building nearly a decade ago, the IAEA won’t be able to detect it”.
      And, it appears that radioactivity can’t be cleaned, esp. by the sort of activities which Iran has been doing at Parchin.

      In other words, if the IAEA won’t be able to detect non-nuclear-related work, it should also not be able to detect nuclear-related work not involving radioactive material, for the same reason. (which is why I believe your assertion is not accurate) Let’s remember that most of the experiments allegedly done as Possible Military Dimensions, didn’t involve nuclear material.

    • wfr (History)

      When I refer to “detect” I mean through use of environmental samples. Of course, the IAEA also wants to talk to people and have access to documents in order to help resolve the “ambiguities”, but…

    • Mohammad (History)

      I think that the most important problem with the PMD is that Iran cooperating on them would be tantamount to compromising some of Iran’s most strategic military secrets. It’s just insane to ask Iran (or any other country in a similar situation) to show Shahab-3 warhead design documents to IAEA inspectors.

      This is why I believe that the PMD allegations are destined to ruin any possibility of resolving the nuclear standoff. It will be forever impossible both to prove or disprove them.

  16. Rob Goldston (History)

    It seems to me that a lot of this discussion turns on whether Iran’s CSA (Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement) includes a statement that the CSA represents *all* of Iran’s obligations to the IAEA under the NPT. I do not think that such a statement is stipulated in INFCIRC/153, which defines the “structure and content” of the CSAs. But it could be there nonetheless.

  17. Dan Joyner (History)

    I would like to express support for Sharif and Johnboy’s views and legal arguments in response to David Albright. As many others have done, David, who is a technical/policy expert, is arguing matters of law on which he is not an expert. This is a serious problem in the arms control community. Everyone assumes they understand what is in fact a very complicated legal area.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Simply asserting that people are not experts in the way you claim to be is not helpful to the discussion. Perhaps if you were to make the actual argument, I would have more respect for your point of view.

    • anon (History)

      I can just as easily assert (and actually believe) that Dan Joyner is not an expert on the legal issues of the NPT and IAEA safeguards. My evidence is that his opinions are contrary to the plain reading of the texts. When confronted with inconvenient arguments, he obfuscates with blithe dismissals that his critics aren’t experts.

    • Dan Joyner (History)

      This seems like an exchange than can quickly devolve into unhelpful professional criticism of each other. My original statement was simply that David Albright is a policy/technical expert, but not a legal expert. I think that David would be the first to agree with this simple distinction of his disciplinary expertise. Now, however, both Jeffrey and Anon have questioned my legal expertise in the area of arms control. I find this a qualitatively different assertion, and I think it is regrettable that they have chosen to question my qualifications in my own discipline.

      My original point, which I maintain, is that arms control law is a very complex area of law that requires legal expertise to understand and work in. This is no different from saying that rocket physics is a complex area of scientific inquiry that requires physics expertise to understand and work in. However, while I as a lawyer would not consider myself qualified to opine on the technical qualities of the latest North Korean missile, everyone in the arms control community – physicists, chemists, diplomats, engineers, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, all think they are qualified to opine on arms control law. I am simply saying that non-lawyers should recognize their non-qualification and the limits of their understanding of legal complexities in this area. This is not a slight to non lawyers any more than someone pointing out my non-qualification to opine about North Korean rockets is a slight to me. It is not, as was alleged in another blog post on this site, an ad hominem attack. It is a simple statement of the facts of disciplinary expertise and it’s limits

  18. Dan Joyner (History)

    I was deliberately trying to not take up too much space in comments to your post on legal issues. I thought you made it clear in the past that you didnt want such in depth discussions of legal issues after your posts. That is of course a different editorial policy than that of Mark Hibbs and others, but its your editorial prerogative and I was attempting to comply.
    As for making the actual arguments, I have made the actual arguments in two university press books, many law journal articles, lectures all over the world, and over and over again on this blog and at other online sites. If that doesnt produce some respect for my point of view, then I dont know what will.
    On the specific legal points raised by David here, Johnboy and Sharif have effectively responded to them. Thats why I simply wrote to express support for their arguments.

  19. rwendland (History)

    Albright> If kilograms of uranium metal were used at Parchin, then is that not a diversion under the safeguards agreement?

    Not if Iran invoked Article 37 of its CSA to exempt from safeguards up to 10 tonnes of natural or lightly-depleted uranium, and used part of that exempted nuclear material. (As I understand it – am I wrong?)

    I don’t know if Iran uses Article 37 exemptions, but the equivalent INFCIRC/66 SA exemption (paragraph 21) for the IAEA-Iran TRR Project Agreement does appear to have been invoked in 1967 by virtue of Annex A Paragraph 3 of INFCIRC/97. I don’t know if this Project Agreement SA invocation would have carried over as a CSA Article 37 request for exemption, or if Iran made another later request under the CSA.

    NB It appears that the old INFCIRC/66 SA may carry on in a strange and limited parallel existence with Iran’s CSA (INFCIRC/214 agreement of 15 May 1974), as INFCIRC/97/Add.2 of 1988 (the Argentine LEU refuelling of the TRR) still refers back to the 1967 TRR Project Agreement for Safeguards in Article V.

    Excuse the amateur lawyering detail above, but it seemed worth amplifying on this Article 37 possibility. If anyone knows of a good paper discussing CSA Article 37 usage and protocols, and which states make use of it, I’d welcome a pointer to the paper.

    • anon (History)

      I think this is a misreading of paragraph 3 of Annex A to INFCIRC/97. This paragraph says that the Agency “shall” exempt material from safeguards under the conditions specified in paragraphs 21, 22, and 23 of the “safeguards document,” namely INFCIRC/66. Paragraphs 22 and 23 do not apply, and paragraph 21 is basically the same as INFCIRC/153 paragraph 37: exemption if the state requests.

      As far as I am aware, Iran has not requested exemption of any nuclear material. IAEA reports do not say that Iran has made such a request, and given the detail in those reports, it seems unlikely that the IAEA would have failed to report such an exemption.

  20. rwendland (History)

    anon, I see what you are getting at, but I’m not convinced by your reading of it. See below for further discussion of this.

    Really though, this discussion of whether Iran has invoked Article 37 by way of an old public document is moot. What really matters is if Iran had entered suitable amounts in the column/category pertaining to Article 37 of the Inventory return at the appropriate time, and if the IAEA accepted it at the time (recognising or implicitly accepting an Article 37 request). As I understand it, the inventory return is confidential between the disclosing government and the IAEA, so we (the public, and in theory other governments) are unlikely to ever know for sure the detail of Iran’s Article 37 safeguards exempted nuclear material. I’m doubtful that the general IAEA reports would mention Article 37 exemptions if the inventories are supposed to be confidential.

    Nevertheless going back to geekishly considering the meaning of paragraph 3 of Annex A to INFCIRC/97, I’d suggest it is easier to consider the similarly worded INFCIRC/127 (6 May 1969) Section 18, which replaced that para of INFCIRC/97 after INFCIRC/66/Rev.2 came out.

    The question is, is Section 18 an acknowledgement that Iran made a request to use those exemption paragraphs, as I had thought, or something lesser as is your reading. It doesn’t seem clear to me now.

    My problem with your reading is that it makes Section 18 nugatory, it just reminds us what is in INFCIRC/66/Rev.2 and nothing more – if Section 18 had been left out the semantics of INFCIRC/127 would be entirely the same, those paragraphs of INFCIRC/66/Rev.2 would still apply as in the base document. I struggle to see why Section 18 would be included by your reading. My reading gives it some meaning and reason to be there.

    I grant you that it is not clear though. I’d think likely someone would have to study the agreements and practices with other states, to try to understand what was really meant here. Looks like we need a real international law lawyer opinion to get a full understanding!

  21. jeannick (History)

    A possible reason for the Iranians diffidence
    beside a deep loathing of IAEA trickery ,
    is that it would create a precedent , not having agreed on the additional protocol is a pretty good negotiating position , should they give way on this it would

    -1 imply their conditional acceptance of the protocol
    -2 open the way for further demands of inspections
    -3 remove one token of granting access as part of some compromise on sanctions

  22. Andy (History)

    Personally, I don’t think that legal arguments will solve the current disputes – only a political solution is possible. Whatever one’s opinion is, there is a fundamental impasse which is this: On one hand, the IAEA decides when a state is or isn’t in compliance with its obligations and it determines what measures are necessary to resolve incidents of noncompliance. On the other hand states, like Iran, with INFCIRC 153 agreements, do not have to cooperate with the Agency outside that agreement except in specific circumstances. And even then states can act unilaterally as long as they are willing to accept the consequences. So we have an Agency that is not willing to close Iran’s file without further investigation and cooperation by Iran, and we have Iran which decided it will not to provide the level of access the IAEA says it requires, which goes beyond Iran’s CSA. Iran cannot legally force the Agency to close Iran’s file and the Agency cannot force Iran to provide access. Boiled down, that is the root issue here.

    Consequently, legal and legalese arguments make for an interesting academic debate and are, of course, used to buttress positions by various stakeholders, but as long as the impasse remains then there is no legal solution to the disputes between Iran and the IAEA. Unless something fundamental changes, I doubt another ten years of legal arguments will make a lot of difference. The solution, therefore, is political and not legal.

    Secondly, arbitration is frequently offered in the comment threads here at ACW as a solution to solve all kinds of disputes between the Agency and Iran. But there are a couple of problems with that view. First, arbitration isn’t mandatory or automatic – it must be requested by one of the parties to the dispute. Neither Iran nor the Agency have opted to invoke arbitration so the proponents of arbitration here should be asking themselves why neither side believes it’s in their interest to do so.

    Secondly article 19 disputes are exempted from arbitration as clearly noted in Iran’s CSA. Lastly, some of the disagreements fall outside the CSA entirely and so arbitration is not applicable there either. Arbitration is actually a limited tool that could be used in some specific circumstances but cannot be the basis for resolving the fundamental as stated above. Regardless, neither party seems interested in arbitration on those narrow issues where it can apply so it’s pretty doubtful they’d be willing to do so on the more fundamental disputes.

    At this point I’ll simply state again my preferred outcome, which is the ratification and full implementation of the AP in Iran. It’s well past time to concentrate on the future instead of the past. Given the choice between implementation of a more comprehensive safeguards system in Iran which will provide warning and transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities into the future and another decade or more of political and legal gamesmanship about past activities, I greatly prefer the former. Iran will undoubtedly demand and high price to accede to the AP but in my view the long term benefit is well worth the cost provided the price is realistically attainable.

    Finally, to try to address the actual topic of this post, I think Rob Kelley has a point and that both he and David Albright are correct when they say, “time will tell.” So far it doesn’t appear to me to be equivalent to the cleanup efforts at Lavizan or al kibar, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an effort to prepare things for inspectors. There are any number of explanations for this activity and we’ll have to see what further imagery reveals.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      “Finally, to try to address the actual topic of this post …”

      What a novel idea.

    • Ael (History)

      Note that political solutions are often created by persuading others. Furthermore, legal arguments can be quite persuasive. After all the legal “knife” can cut both ways.

      Any political solution will therefore be strongly influenced by the strength of the legal arguments that can be mustered. Will they be decisive? Probably not. After all, if neither the facts or the law is on your side, pound on the table!

  23. Robert Kelley (History)

    No question about it. Time has spoken through ISIS’ latest image of Parchin. Clearly Iran is determined to make a mess of the site and now we will never know what was going on there, unless the cylinder is intact which looks increasingly unlikely. This is the most undiplomatic move they could possibly make given that they once held the high ground legally and now are destroying evidence whether or not IAEA gets in.

    • Sharif (History)

      As I understand the ISIS pic’s the Iranians have still not touched the building of interest, and ISIS no longer says that the water is washing away evidence. Yes, Iran _should_ not modify their military base but they are well within their rights to so do.

    • Sharif (History)

      A May 8 ISIS report on Parchin says “The stream of water that appears to emanate from the building raises concerns that Iran may have been washing inside the building, or perhaps washing the items outside the building. ”

      Which was spun up by the media.

      but the latest ISIS report says:

      “The latest imagery also shows a notable amount of water flow from nearby an object placed next to the alleged high explosive testing building. It is hard to distinguish what the object is or the purpose of the water. ”

      Which is more accurate.

  24. David Albright (History)

    I have been travelling and just returned to this discussion thread. In response to Sharif, the water streams emanated from different objects. Ths first stream was much more suspicious than the second one, which emanated from a relatively small object located outside the building that has aroused the most concern. The first water stream raised directly the suspicion that the inside of this building was being tampered with.

    An earlier image showing objects located outside this building was one of the first visible signs that increased concern that Iran was altering the inside of this building.

    The concern all along has been on this building and what Iran may be doing to hide evidence of past activity inside this building.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      As I pointed out some time ago, when you (ISIS) first identified the building, the most likely outcome of the queries about the chamber and its public disclosure would be Iran cutting it up and removing it and all the pieces.

      Fortunately, they seem to have done that. Fortunately, unless they were Really Clever 10 years ago, which cannot be ruled out, but is probably unlikely.