An unnamed foreign country was responsible for the blast at Iran’s secretive Parchin facility on Monday, a Kuwaiti news site claimed Thursday, quoting unnamed Washington-based European diplomats.
The report by Kuwait’s Al Rai also claimed Western intelligence agencies believe that Iran has been conducting tests at the facility, aimed at loading nuclear warheads onto ballistic missiles.
It was the Monday strike, the report further said, that prompted Iran to order Hezbollah to target an Israeli army patrol on the Israeli side of the Israel-Lebanon border the next day, in which two soldiers were injured.
There was no independent confirmation of the report, which was also cited on Israel’s Channel 2 news.
The blast, which is said to have killed at least two people, caused substantive damage to 12 buildings at the heart of the site, Channel 2 said Thursday.
According to satellite images taken after the blast, Israeli researcher Ronen Solomon told the TV channel, the affected buildings were bunkers where work was being carried out on triggers to detonate nuclear devices.
The reports emerged just as the latest UN effort to probe suspicions that Iran is working to attain nuclear weapons ended on a downbeat note, with diplomats saying that Tehran refused entry to Iran to a US nuclear expert on the UN’s investigating team.
The diplomats also said Thursday that the trip this week didn’t succeed in advancing a decade of UN efforts to investigate suspicions that Tehran worked on such weapons.
Tehran has denied IAEA inspectors access to Parchin since 2005.
Reza Najafi, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, confirmed that an International Atomic Energy Agency staff member was refused a visa. Najafi didn’t identify the person, but told Iran’s Fars news agency that he had a “particular nationality.”
The IAEA’s inquiry is formally separate from US-led talks with Iran focused on long-term caps on Tehran’s atomic programs in exchange for an end to nuclear-related sanctions, which resume next week in Vienna.
But Washington says a successful investigation by IAEA must be part of any final deal. That is unlikely by Nov. 24 — the target date for such an agreement.
Two diplomats from IAEA member nations said the US expert first applied for a visa eight months ago and had been turned down several times since.
Iran says it doesn’t want nuclear arms and never worked toward them. But the IAEA says it has collected about 1,000 pages of information that point to attempts to develop such weapons.
Several meetings have resulted in little progress since Iran and the IAEA agreed late last year on a new effort to try and clear up the allegations.
The agency said Thursday that Iran presented no new proposals at the latest talks with IAEA experts. An IAEA statement gave no date for a new meeting.
On Wednesday, an exiled Iranian opposition group accused Tehran of secretly moving a key nuclear research hierarchy to avoid international inspections.
The dissident group said the Tehran-based Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research (SPND) was “the nerve center of the militarization of the Iranian nuclear program,” which has been responsible for “the design and manufacture of the atomic bomb.”
“The transfer of the SPND was completed in July,” said the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which has made significant revelations about Iran’s nuclear program in the past.
“Managers and key services were relocated to secret locations, while some administrative officials were left in place to deceive IAEA inspectors,” said dissident leader Afchine Alavi.
The SPND was targeted in August by a new round of US sanctions against companies and individuals seen as providing support to illicit Iranian nuclear activities.
The brains behind the SPND, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, sought for years by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is being “hidden by the regime”, the NCRI said in a report.
“This game of hide-and-seek with the IAEA proves that the regime has no intention of abandoning the military aspect of its program and that it does not want to be transparent.”
Following Monday’s mysterious blast at Parchin, east of Tehran, satellite imagery obtained Wednesday by Israel’s Channel 2 and Israel Defense magazine claimed to show extensive damage at the site.
Images of the facility taken Tuesday, a day after the explosion, showed that several buildings at the location sustained heavy damage and some even collapsed, Channel 2 reported.
The photos “clearly show damage consistent with an attack against bunkers in a central locality within the military research complex at the Parchin military compound,” Israel Defense wrote.
The images were taken by the French satellite Pleiades the morning following the blast.
Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported Monday that the explosion occurred at a defense ministry plant east of Tehran for the production of explosives.
The Defense Industries Organisation, quoted by IRNA, said a fire broke out at the plant on Sunday night but it gave no further details.
The BBC, citing a report from the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), reported on Monday that the incident happened in an “explosive materials production unit” at the site south-east of the capital Tehran.
According to ISNA, the blast was so powerful it shattered windows up to 12 kilometers away and the glare from the explosion lit up the night sky.
Several arms facilities and military bases are located east of the Iranian capital, including Parchin.
The base lies at the center of allegations of past Iranian research into sophisticated explosives that can be used to detonate a nuclear warhead.
In August Iran reiterated that it will not allow IAEA inspectors to visit the site.
AP contributed to this report.