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Nuclear Watchdog Confirms Blast at Parchin Nuclear Trigger Test Site in Iran

When we posted Monday, October 6th  on the mysterious blast at the Parchin military explosives test site in Iran , we said our first act was to contact the Washington, DC-based  Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) headed by former nuclear inspector, David Albright.  ISIS, a highly regarded nuclear watchdog group,  maintains watching briefs on both the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

The young man who answered our call said they would have an evaluation of imagery of the Parchin test site, alleged to be engaged in development of explosive nuclear triggers for possible weapons development.  The Parchin military test facility is located 28 kilometers southeast of Tehran.  The blast there occurred on Sunday night local time. It  produced a glare that could be seen 13 kilometers (approximately 10 miles) distant, as well as blew out windows.  The Iranian regime’s IRNA and opposition Samha news agencies reported on the blast at Parchin that killed two workers.  ISIS released evidence yesterday of damage at the Parchin test site based on satellite imagery, “Finding the Site of the Alleged Explosion at the Parchin Military Complex”.   Their analysis found:

After analyzing the sections of the Parchin military complex visible in satellite imagery, ISIS believes that one site located in the southern section of the complex could be the possible location of the explosion. This site is close to a series of bunkers, indicating that it could serve as a support area for the activities taking place there. Several signatures that coincide with those expected from an explosion site are visible here. Two buildings that were present in August 2014 are no longer there, while a third building appears to be severely damaged. In total at least six buildings appear damaged or destroyed. Several trucks are present at the site. The shape and size of these trucks is consistent with those of either fire or debris removal trucks. The irregular line and color of the vegetation seems to indicate that some unexpected activity took place (possibly a fire, explosion, scattering of debris etc.). Finally, grey debris is visible at the center of the potential explosion area and is also scattered into the surrounding vegetation.

Earlier today, it has been reported that the imagery shows that the damage is consistent with an attack against bunkers and that the locality is adjacent to another installation where work was being conducted that involves controlled detonation of fuses intended to serve as triggers for nuclear devices.

iran nuke plant

For a larger view click on the image. Source: ISIS.

However, it is important to note that there is no evidence of either an attack or nuclear weapon-related activities at this specific site. There may be confusion over alleged high explosive nuclear weapon-related activities at another site at Parchin that occurred prior to 2004 (see figure 1 on the right).

Given the ISIS analysis,  the  question of whether the Parchin explosion was sabotage or a test failure is still open.  Sources, we have consulted with suggested it might be the former.  While the Washington ISIS has been monitoring activity at Parchin, the facility has been closed to IAEA inspections since 2005.

iran nuke plant 2

For a larger view click on the image. Source: ISIS.

Three years ago, we posted on another massive explosion at a missile propellant test  center near Tehran in mid November, 2011, “Iranian Missile Test Site Explosion May Disable Solid Fuel ICMB Program – a Threat Played Down by the Obama Administration”. We noted:

Along with Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam the head of Iran’s missile test program and 17 other Iranians killed in the ‘accident’ there have been reportsthat a number of North Koreans present at the test facility were killed as well.  That is analogous to the IAF 2007 raid on the Syrian nuclear bomb factory when there was documented evidence of North Korean technicians present at the destroyed site.

The implication of the ‘accident’ is that the NIE May 2009 estimate of Iran’s ICBM capabilities was wrong, as experts cited in our report on The Iranian Missile Threat.  That report was used to justify that the Administration’s Missile Defense Shield program that only covered southeastern Europe. Strategically it means that the range of these solid fuel rockets, especially the MB-25 variant being developed by Iran, threatened targets in EU from the UK through Central and Eastern Europe, as well as, Russia.

According to a Reuters report on the ISIS analysis of the blast at Parchin, the IAEA has been denied access to Parchin by Iran on the grounds that it is a “conventional military facility”. It further noted that Iran said the November 2011 missile test site blast occurred while the “weapons were being moved”.

With questions raised about the pending final agreement proposals  under discussion in Vienna between representatives of the P5+1 and Iran, the Parchin military test site blast begs disclosures  on what triggered it.  Why Iran has denied access to the facility to the IAEA since 2005?  It is time for the Senate and House Select Intelligence Committees to hold closed door hearings on Iran’s nuclear activities during the year long interim agreement. An agreement that gave the green light for lifting some US and International sanctions.  Perhaps, Israel has information on both the incident at Parchin and Iran’s nuclear program. Yuval Steinitz, Israeli Minister of Intelligence , revealed before President Rouhani’s speech at the UN General Assembly in  September 2014 that  he had  such information  from “reliable sources”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Iran: P5+1 Reach Deal on Six Month Freeze

In separate announcements, Iran and the P5+1 reached agreement on the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) to begin on January 20, 2014.  The original announcement of the interim agreement between the P5+1 and the Islamic regime in Tehran had been made on November 24, 2013. Friday reports came that the JPA agreement was imminent.

APIRNA, and Deutsche Welle had reports on these developments with statements by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, EU Foreign Relations Commissioner Catherine Ashton, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry.

Iran’s Araqchi announced, “The Joint Plan of Action reached between Iran and P5+1 in Geneva on November 24 will be implemented as of January 20.”However, he noted that uranium enrichment will continue at the 20% level until January 19th and that Iran fully expects the P5+1 to comply with agreed terms on the 20th.   Ashton, said, “The foundations for a coherent, robust and smooth implementation…have been laid.  She further noted,” We will ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to undertake the necessary nuclear-related monitoring and verification activities.”  Secretary of State Kerry commented that the agreement “represents the best chance we have to resolve this critical national security issue peacefully, and durably.” The White House verified the announcement saying, “Beginning January 20th, Iran will for the first time start eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium and dismantling some of the infrastructure that makes such enrichment possible.”  President Obama warned that the P5+1 would “move to increase [their] sanctions” if Iran didn’t comply with the terms.  However, he said the deal “will advance our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. I have no illusions about how hard it will be to achieve this objective, but for the sake of our national security and the peace and security of the world, now is the time to give diplomacy a chance to succeed.”

During the run up to today’s announcement differences between the Administration and Congress arose over pending new Iran sanctions legislation, the Nuclear Weapons Free Iran Act (NWFIA) that  the White House threatened to veto.  At one point during negotiations, the Iranian delegation headed by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif threatened to leave the Geneva meetings over the new US Sanctions initiative. In late December 2013, 230 members of Iran’s Parliament, the Majlis, signed legislation threatening to authorize uranium enrichment to 60% levels to counter the proposed NWFIA.

Among the terms agreed to was authority for the IAEA to conduct daily inspections of known Iranian nuclear facilities and supervise the neutralization of existing stock of enriched uranium at the 20% level, while Iran was granted permission to enrich to a 5% cap. However, a report from IRNA indicated that the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran had not received requests from the IAEA to open up a dedicated Tehran office, noting only that the UN agency had made frequent trips from its Vienna headquarters to conduct periodic inspections. That raises questions about the ability to enforce the provisions of the JPA.

The AP reported Iran’s Araqchi saying on national television that the Islamic Regime expects to receive release of $4 billion in frozen oil revenues versus upwards of $7 billion in relief the US had originally estimated with this interim pact.  Separately, Washington, DC-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies had estimated upwards of $20 Billion from the easing of sanctions. We have noted in Iconoclast posts recent visits by British parliamentary and French trade delegations. Further Turkey has confirmed an upcoming visit by embattled Turkish premier Erdogan to Tehran in late January or early February.  Erdogan is seeking to expand bilateral trade with Iran. According to experts cited in a Christian Science Monitor report Iran’s economy may have shrunk by an estimated 3% in 2012 and 2% in 2013.

Today’s announcement comes just prior to President Obama’s annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on January 28th. Further, it comes as momentum is building in the US Senate on a possible veto-proof bipartisan majority for passage of NWFIA.  It also comes prior to the scheduled January 22nd Geneva II talks on ending the 34 month long civil war in Syria. Secretary Kerry raised the prospect of inviting Iran to attend those sessions a week ago saying that the Islamic regime “might have a role to play on the sidelines.”

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.