Satellite image of Parchin .
(photo credit: GeoEye-ISIS)
VIENNA - UN nuclear investigators may no longer find
anything if granted access to Iran's Parchin military site, their chief said on
Monday, in view of suspected Iranian efforts to remove any traces of illicit
atomic activity there.
Yukiya Amano also said his agency's talks with
Iran on unblocking an IAEA inquiry into possible nuclear arms research by Tehran
had been "going around in circles" for some time.
Amano was airing
unusually blunt criticism that reflected the mounting tension over Iran's
disputed nuclear energy program that has increased fears of a new Middle East
Israel, widely assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed
state, sees Iran's declared civil nuclear program as the most serious risk to
its security and has threatened air strikes if diplomacy and sanctions fail to
rein in Tehran.
Amano, director general of the International Atomic
Energy Agency, vented growing frustration at the lack of results in getting Iran
to address international concerns. Tehran denies its nuclear energy quest is a
disguised bid for atomic bombs.
In hard-hitting comments to the IAEA's
35-nation Board of Governors and later at a news conference, he also said
Iranian advances in building a research reactor and in its uranium enrichment
work were in "clear contravention" of UN Security Council resolutions calling
for a suspension in such activities.
The IAEA has been trying since early
2012 to engage with Iran over what the Vienna-based UN agency calls the
"possible military dimensions" to the country's nuclear program.
rounds of negotiations in the last 17 months have failed to achieve any
breakthrough. Western diplomats accuse Iran of stonewalling the IAEA, an
allegation Tehran rejects.
"To be frank, for some time now we have been
going around in circles," Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, said.
IAEA's priority has been to gain access to Parchin, a sprawling military
compound where it believes Iran may have carried out explosives tests applicable
to developing a nuclear weapon, possibly a decade ago. Iran denies
But Amano acknowledged for the first time that "extensive
activities" by Iran - including removal of soil and asphalting - now meant
inspectors may return empty-handed even if Iran were to allow them to visit.
Iran says Parchin is a conventional military site and has dismissed the
"It may no longer be possible to find anything,"
he said, adding, however, that the IAEA still wanted to go to
Parchin.IRAN REACTOR WORRIES WEST
Amano spoke at a time of apparent
deadlock in a broader diplomatic initiative by six world powers to find a
peaceful solution to the decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Western diplomats say they are awaiting the outcome of Iran's June 14
presidential election but still do not anticipate any notable rollback from its
Iran, a big oil producer now under harsh Western
sanctions against its lifeblood export sector, says its nuclear program aims
to meet the electricity needs of a rapidly growing population and advance some
areas of scientific research.
But its refusal to suspend nuclear activity
with both civilian and potential military applications in defiance of U.N.
Security Council demands, and its lack of full openness with the IAEA, have
fueled suspicions abroad about its ultimate goals.
"Iran is not
providing the necessary cooperation to enable us to provide credible assurance
about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities," Amano
Western and Israeli worries about Iran are focused largely on its
uranium enrichment work, as such material refined to a high level can provide
the fissile core of an atomic bomb.
But diplomats and experts say a heavy
water research reactor being built near the town of Arak could give Iran an
alternative ingredient - plutonium - for nuclear bombs, if it were to decide to
build such weapons of mass destruction.
An IAEA report issued to member
states last month showed the Islamic Republic pressing ahead with the
construction of Arak, including the delivery to the site of the reactor
"Iran continues to advance its heavy water-related projects,"
Amano said. The lack of updated design information about the plant "is having an
increasingly adverse impact on our ability to ... implement an effective