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Iran nuclear site vehicles likely not for cleanup, report says

Images show cars parked at site for five years, undermining claims Parchin is being illicitly sanitized

Satellite image of the Parchin facility, April 2012 (AP/Institute for Science and International Security)
Satellite image of the Parchin facility, April 2012 (AP/Institute for Science and International Security)

New evidence suggests that vehicles parked near Iran’s Parchin nuclear site have been there for years and may not indicate illicit cleanup efforts, as suggested last week by a Washington research group.

Images taken in the past five years show that there have always been approximately 20 vehicles parked at the Parchin site, which is suspected of being used for experiments related to weaponization of Iran’s nuclear technology, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, had suggested that the satellite images may show “Iran’s last-ditch effort to eradicate evidence” of nuclear weapons development at Parchin prior to planned inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Intelligence analyst and former US nuclear-weapons scientist Robert Kelley denied the Washington-based institute’s claims.

“The ‘parking lot of death’ has been imaged dozens of times and there are clear patterns of passenger cars parked there,” he said “There have been no indicators of a change in Iranian activities of any significance — no earth moving or sanitization whatsoever.”

Kelley also suggested that the vehicles likely belonged to workers at a nearby explosives plant.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Saturday that the vehicles were for the purposes of road work, not cleanup.

“We have announced that road construction operations are being carried out at Parchin,” Zarif told reporters in Tehran, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. Claims to the contrary, he said, were “lies,” he said. “All allegations against the Islamic Republic of Iran in this ground have always been baseless.”

Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council, dismissed suspicions of Parchin cleanup efforts as exaggerated.

“Parchin is an active site and movement is inevitable. Attempting an impossible cleanup in full view of satellites and just before Congressional votes would be stretching conspiracy theories beyond breaking point,” he said.

Satellite images of the vehicles at Parchin were circulated to US lawmakers, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence met with politicians in July to explain their significance. After seeing the images, some of the officials expressed concern that what they were seeing was a possible breach of last month’s nuclear agreement.

“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,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said.

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