Iranian officials vowed to carefully watch for any attempted espionage by international inspectors, who on Thursday were visiting a military complex that the United States alleges may be involved in nuclear weapons research.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, arrived in Iran on Wednesday for a visit to the huge Parchin military complex just outside the capital Tehran, according to state-run television.
Iran has said it will allow U.N. nuclear experts to take environmental samples from landscaped areas outside the military complex’s ammunition production workshops but it won’t allow them to inspect military equipment.
The IAEA has been pressing Tehran for months to be allowed to inspect the complex, long used to research, develop and produce ammunition, missiles and high explosives.
Officials at the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran confirmed Thursday that a four-member team of inspectors was heading to Parchin, but would not say Thursday evening if the visit had taken place. State media also remained silent on the subject.
At IAEA headquarters in Vienna, agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said Thursday only that a visit would take place: “I confirm that a team of IAEA inspectors is today conducting an inspection at Parchin, including the taking of environmental samples.”
In leaks to media last year, unidentified U.S. intelligence officials were quoted as saying Iran could be using a secured site at Parchin in research on high-explosive components for use in nuclear weapons. Iran repeatedly has denied allegations of a secret nuclear weapons programs, saying its nuclear activities are for peaceful energy purposes.
'Conventional' weapons secrets
“Iran’s red line for entry of IAEA inspectors into military sites, including Parchin, is to protect the secrets of the country’s conventional military capabilities,” top nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian was quoted as saying in Thursday’s government-owned daily “Iran.”
“We have allowed (the IAEA) visit to our military sites, but we are watchful not to allow any espionage or intelligence theft from these sites,” the newspaper also quoted him as telling top military officials. It did not say when he addressed them.
Mousavian and other Iranian nuclear officials could not be reached for comment about the inspection, which journalists were not allowed to attend.
But Ali Akbar Salehi, a nuclear adviser to Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, said Thursday the Parchin visit was a “transparency visit.”
Last year, Iran started implementing what is known as the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The protocol allows intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities, although it has not been approved by parliament.
“To prove its sincerity and transparency, Iran agreed to IAEA inspectors taking environmental samples that allows the agency to check whether any weapons-related activity has been carried out,” he said.
Under international pressure, Iran suspended uranium enrichment and all related activities in November, hoping to avoid U.N. Security Council sanctions. The IAEA agreed to police the suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities.