Iranian media is reporting that UN inspectors have been granted access to the Saghand uranium mine in central Iran, and that plans have been worked out as to how that mine will be monitored. However, this story comes only days after Iran’s atomic energy organization denied inspectors access to a suspected facility at Parchin. The contrasting events suggest that the regime is once again cherry-picking the sites that it opens to inspectors – a strategy that derailed negotiations soon after the Iranian nuclear program became a cause for Western concerns about a decade ago.
The Parchin complex was designated as a military site, which Iranian officials say puts it off limits to inspectors. Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran explained: “…we have not accepted and are not exercising the Additional Protocol (of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty),” and are therefore not required to grant free access to all sites that international inspectors regard as potential nuclear sites.
This appears to open the possibility for Iran to designate other nuclear sites as military installations or locations of legitimate state secrets, so as to stonewall access while keeping Western attentions focused on the sites to which it does grant access.
Commenting on the Iranian announcement of international access to the Saghand mine, as well as the Ardakan uranium milling plant, Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation program at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, said that it was “another good step.” But he added that it was “an easy step for Iran to take, since there is no suggestion of anything untoward happening there.”
Nonetheless, Iranian authorities have put forth these latest moves as significant steps in its dealings with the West. Also cited in the Iranian media report was the Arak heavy water manufacturing facility. This is of greater concern to Western inspectors than the other two sites, and has been since its existence was exposed by the National Council of Resistance of Iran in 2002.
Arak’s operations could contribute to the development of a plutonium bomb as an alternative to one based on uranium enrichment, which has apparently decreased since negotiations began between Iran and six world powers. These concerns prompted Western officials to propose that Iran convert the facility to a light water reactor, but Iran officially rejected this request last week.
The government-affiliated IRNA news agency quoted an anonymous Iranian official as saying that ways of monitoring Arak had been worked out with inspectors. However, no corresponding announcement has been released by Western negotiators or international inspectors.
In fact, information is not expected from the International Atomic Energy Authority until it issues its quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear program later this month. This may give Iranian officials some time to issue false or misleading reports before accurate and complete information contradicts them. Iran has a long track record of using its official news agencies as propaganda tools.
Earlier this week, the Iranian Culture Ministry announced that it would partner with Christie’s auction house to conduct high-value art sales inside the country, which has been economically damaged by sanctions imposed prior to nuclear negotiations. However, this story was proved false by a Christie’s spokesperson the next day.
Information about nuclear access is considerably more important, yet false statements by the Iranian regime have the potential to remain uncorrected for much longer, and thus may affect the attitudes of P5+1 negotiators as they sit down for a new round of talks in Vienna next week.