A senior Iranian nuclear official pushed back against the head of the UN’s atomic watchdog Monday, saying statements made about IAEA safeguards of inspections at the Parchin military site were false.
Reza Najafi, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said sampling done at the Parchin site, which the West suspects housed illicit nuclear tests, was done without any international oversight, in contrast to what he said was a Reuters report on a statement made by IAEA head Yukiya Amano.
“We have not allowed any IAEA inspector into Parchin site to take samples or supervise our sampling; we have taken the samples by ourselves,” Najafi told the semi-official Fars News Agency.
Earlier Monday, Amano told reporters that “certain IAEA safeguards activities were carried out at the particular location at the Parchin site. These included the taking of environmental samples,” according to an official IAEA transcript.
The comments were carried by Reuters and other news agencies, and came as Amano defended the use of Iranian agents to collect samples at the Parchin site, a facility to which the nuclear agency has long sought access.
The use of Iranian inspectors instead of IAEA officials has raised hackles among some, but Amano said the sampling “was done in a way that ensures that the Agency’s verification processes are not compromised.”
Deputy IAEA Director General Tero Varjoranta said at the same news conference with Amano that oversight at Parchin included invasive monitoring by video and still cameras while the sampling took place; GPS tracking of the sampling process; IAEA agreement on where the samples were to be taken; review by unspecified peers of the inspection process; risk assessment; and strict observance to make sure that procedures were followed step by step.
“We feel fully confident that the process and the result so far are fully in line with our safeguards practices,” he said.
Najafi also downplayed Amano’s visit to the site Sunday, during which Amano said he was able to inspect a building the agency had previously been denied access to.
“They did not have any equipment even a mobile phone and their visit did not last for more than a few minutes,” Najafi said. he added that Amanos’ visit was meant to “show him that there was not anything suspicious about the site and that the claims about Parchin are completely false.”
The agency has long sought access to Parchin to clarify suspicions that explosive triggers for nuclear weapons were tested there.
He told reporters in Vienna that he was able to enter a building that the agency had been observing via satellite and saw signs of “recent renovation work.”
He appeared to be referring to the building where the agency suspects that weapons experiments were conducted. The agency has frequently said that subsequent renovation work at and near the building could hamper the IAEA probe, a position Amano repeated on Monday.
Amano’s one-day visit to Iran is part of an assessment due in December that will feed into the nuclear deal reached in July between Tehran and six world powers and will help to determine whether sanctions will be lifted.
The arrangement allowing the self-inspection was first revealed in a confidential draft agreement between the sides seen last month by The Associated Press. The draft said that Iranian experts, monitored by video and still cameras, would gather environmental samples at the site and hand them over to the agency for analysis.
Iran’s atomic energy agency spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said IAEA experts were not physically present during the sampling.
The “environmental sampling from some specific parts within the Parchin complex” was conducted in the past week, according to Kamalvandi.
“It was done by Iranian experts, in the absence of IAEA inspectors,” Kamalvandi told state media, referring to the UN agency’s staff.
Varjoranta said that there have been more than 40 instances of letting a country being inspected use their own nationals to do the sampling and that the process is only a small part of a rigid regimen established by the agency to make sure there is no cheating.
But the IAEA’s reliance on Iranian self-inspection also drew criticism.
Former IAEA deputy director general Olli Heinonen has described Iran as a particularly sensitive case, however, saying he knows of no other case where a country under investigation for possibly trying to make nuclear weapons was permitted to use its own personnel to collect environmental samples as part of the investigation.