x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Iran will open its doors to Parchin nuclear facility for UN inspection

An inspection at the facility, south-east of Tehran, will only go ahead if both sides agree on guidelines.

TEHRAN // Iran will grant United Nations inspectors access to a military complex where the UN nuclear agency suspects secret atomic work is been carried out, the country's semi-official ISNA news agency reported yesterday.

Tehran had banned UN inspectors from visiting the Parchin facility, south-east of the capital, but Iran's permanent envoy to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said a visit would now be allowed as a gesture of good will.

But it could only go ahead after both sides agreed on guidelines, ISNA said.

Inspecting Parchin had been a key request by IAEA teams that visited Tehran in January and last month, along with access to key Iranian officials and information on the nuclear programme.

Iran rejected those requests.

The West has accused Iran of a running programme to build nuclear weapons but Tehran has said its nuclear operations are purely for peaceful purposes.

The latest development comes a day after the IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, said he was increasingly concerned that there may be new activity at Parchin.

Mr Amano did not specify if he thought the activity was linked to suspected new weapons experiments or attempts to clean up suspected previous work.

Parchin has been often mentioned in the West as a suspected base for secret nuclear experiments - a claim Iran denies.

IAEA inspectors visited the site in 2005 - but only one of four areas on the grounds - and reported no unusual activities.

Last year's IAEA's report said there were indications that Iran had conducted high-explosives testing to set off a nuclear charge at Parchin.

Iran denied that and insisted that any decision to open the site rests with the armed forces since it is a military, not a nuclear, facility.

On Monday at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Mr Amano said the suspicions of "activities ... at the Parchin site" in Iran meant "going there sooner is better than later" for IAEA inspectors seeking to probe suspicions Iran has been working secretly to develop nuclear arms.

"We have our credible information that indicates that Iran engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices." The IAEA has said it has intelligence-based suspicions based on thousands of pages of documents.

Iran has dismissed the information as being fabricated by a "few arrogant countries" - a phrase authorities often use to refer to the United States and its allies.

"Given that Parchin is a military site, access to this facility is a time-consuming process and it can't be visited repeatedly," ISNA quoted the Iranian envoy's statement saying.

It added that following repeated IAEA demands, "permission will be granted for access once more".

There was no immediate comment from the IAEA on Tehran's decision. It comes as fears grow that Israel's air force may soon strike Iran in an attempt to destroy its nuclear facilities.

During the IAEA visit last month, Iran invited the UN inspectors to visit the Marivan site - an offer they declined.

Mr Amano's report in November also mentioned Marivan, saying intelligence from an IAEA member state indicated large scale high-explosive experiments were conducted in the western region of Marivan, near the Iraqi border.

Mr Amano said Monday Iran had made a last-minute offer to the IAEA to visit Marivan.

The US president, Barack Obama, met the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Washington on Monday and told him the US "will always have Israel's back", but that diplomacy was the best way to resolve the crisis.