Congress has been informed by American intelligence of evidence that Iran was sanitizing its suspected nuclear military site at Parchin, in broad daylight, days after agreeing to a nuclear deal with world powers, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
For senior lawmakers in both parties, the evidence calls into question Iran’s intention to fully account for the possible military dimensions of its current and past nuclear development, the report said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran have a side agreement meant to resolve past suspicions about the Parchin site, and lawmakers' concerns about it has already become a flashpoint because they do not have access to its text.
Intelligence officials and lawmakers who have seen the new evidence, which is still classified, told Bloomberg that satellite imagery picked up by U.S. government assets in mid- and late July showed that Iran had moved bulldozers and other heavy machinery to the Parchin site and that the U.S. intelligence community concluded with high confidence that the Iranian government was working to clean up the site ahead of planned inspections by the IAEA.
The intelligence community shared its findings with lawmakers and some Congressional staff late last week, four people who have seen the evidence said. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence briefed lawmakers about the evidence Monday, three U.S. senators said.
“I am familiar with it,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr told Bloomberg. “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 said Iran’s activities at Parchin complicate the work of the IAEA inspectors who are set to examine the site in the coming months.
IAEA's director general, Yukiya Amano, was in Washington on Wednesday to brief lawmakers behind closed doors about the side agreements.
“They are certainly not going to see the site that existed. Whether that’s a site that can be determined what it did, only the technical experts can do that,” Burr said. “I think it’s a huge concern.”
A senior intelligence official, when asked about the satellite imagery, said the IAEA was also familiar with what he called "sanitization efforts" since the deal was reached in Vienna, but that the U.S. government and its allies had confidence that the IAEA had the technical means to detect past nuclear work anyway.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker told the news agency that while Iran’s activity at Parchin last month isn’t technically a violation of the agreement it signed with the U.S. and other powers, it does call into question Iran’s intention to be forthright about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.
“The intel 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.” He added the new information gave him "a lot of concerns" about Iran coming clean on military dimensions of its nuclear work.
Satellite evidence in 2014 and in 2012 suggested that nuclear bomb triggering devices are being tested in Parchin.
Democratic Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Bloomberg he is undecided on supporting the Iran deal because of the Parchin issue.
“I have concerns about the vigorous efforts by Iran to sanitize Parchin,” he said. “I’ve gotten some reassurance about how difficult it is for them to effectively conceal what we know to have been their illicit nuclear weapons developments there.”
Coons said he was most concerned about the integrity of the IAEA inspection process going forward and not as concerned about figuring out what happened in the site in the past: “We know what the Iranians did at Parchin.”
David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, obtained a commercially available image of the Parchin site taken by satellites on July 26 that shows renewed activity at the Parchin site. He told Bloomberg there are two new large vehicles, alterations ongoing to roofs of two of the buildings and new structures near two of the buildings.
The Institute for Science and International Security is the same institution that uncovered previous satellite imagery of Iran’s covert nuclear work.
“You have to worry that this could be an attempt by Iran to defeat the sampling, that it’s Iran’s last-ditch effort to eradicate evidence there,” Albright told Bloomberg. “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.”