Classified satellite images obtained by US government sources show that Iran has dispatched bulldozers and heavy machinery to its Parchin nuclear complex, strongly suggesting it is cleaning up the site prior to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency this fall.
The evidence, which was obtained in July, was presented to US lawmakers last week, and on Monday the Office of the Director of National Intelligence met with politicians to explain its significance, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said the evidence posed challenges to upcoming IAEA inspections of the Parchin military complex, a site suspected of being used for experiments related to weaponization of Iran’s nuclear technology.
Details of inspections of the site were reportedly specified in an IAEA-Iran agreement to which the US was not privy, but the head of Iran’s atomic agency denied the existence of such an agreement last month.
US government officials were split on the significance of the evidence, according to the Bloomberg report; some saw it as a possible breach of the nuclear deal reached last month, while others said it would not interfere with inspections.
“I think it’s up to the administration to draw their conclusions. Hopefully this is something they will speak on, since it is in many ways verified by commercial imagery. And their actions seem to be against the grain of the agreement,” Burr told Bloomberg News.
Burr added that the evidence could mean that inspectors would not see the site as it had existed prior to the suspected cleanups, calling it “a huge concern.”
A senior intelligence official said that while he was aware of Iran’s “sanitization efforts” since the Vienna deal was signed, he believed the IAEA team would still be able to properly inspect the site and detect past nuclear work.
Another administration official added that the October 15 inspection deadline did not leave enough time for Iran to clean up all traces of enriched uranium, if that was indeed the work being done there.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said that although he found the evidence disconcerting, it may not constitute a violation of the nuclear deal.
“The intel[ligence] briefing was troubling to me … some of the things that are happening, especially happening in such a blatant way,” he said. “Iran is going to know that we know.”
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said that the activity may be “Iran’s last-ditch effort to eradicate evidence there.”
“The day is coming when they are going to have to let the IAEA into Parchin, so they may be desperate to finish sanitizing the site,” he added.
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.