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'Very clear' signs of Iran sanitizing military site, Western diplomat says

This satellite image from Friday shows earth displacement activity at the suspected high explosive testing site in Parchin, Iran. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog has repeatedly asked Iran for access to the site as part of a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Tehran may be seeking the ability to assemble nuclear bombs.
This satellite image from Friday shows earth displacement activity at the suspected high explosive testing site in Parchin, Iran. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog has repeatedly asked Iran for access to the site as part of a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Tehran may be seeking the ability to assemble nuclear bombs.DigitalGlobe - ISIS

VIENNA -- U.N. nuclear inspectors displayed new satellite imagery on Wednesday indicating that some small buildings had been dismantled and other possible clean-up work undertaken at an Iranian military site they want to visit.

One image from May 25 showed signs that "ground-scraping activities" had taken place at the Parchin facility, as well as the presence of a bulldozer, according to diplomats who attended a closed-door briefing by U.N. nuclear agency officials.

This will likely further strengthen Western suspicions that Iran is "sanitizing" the site of any incriminating evidence before allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into the complex. "It is very clear," one Western envoy said.

Iran's IAEA envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, dismissed such accusations by Western officials, telling reporters after the briefing that "this kind of noise and allegations are baseless".

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The images released by the Institute for Science and International Security's (ISIS) could hurt a tentative deal between the U.N.'s atomic watchdog aimed at giving inspectors wide access to scientists, documents and facilities allegedly related to nuclear-weapons work, The Wall Street Journal reported

Wednesday's disclosure followed inconclusive talks between Iran and six world powers in Baghdad last week to address concerns about the nature of its nuclear activities, which Iran says are aimed at generating electricity.

The images were posted on ISIS's website hours after diplomats said the International Atomic Energy Agency showed what appeared to be similar imagery at a closed-door briefing in Vienna. 

The agency has been pressing Iran to allow inspectors to visit the Parchin military facility, which the IAEA thinks could have been involved in testing of high explosives, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Western envoys who attended Wednesday's briefing earlier told Reuters that two small side buildings at Parchin had been removed, and ISIS said its pictures from May 25 showed that they "have been completely razed."  

ISIS, which tracks Iran's nuclear program closely, said there were visible tracks in the images "made by heavy machinery used in the demolition process," adding that the two buildings had been intact in early April. 

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly asked Iran for access to Parchin as part of a long-stalled probe into suspicions that Tehran may be seeking the ability to assemble nuclear bombs, should it decide to do so. 

The Islamic state has so far refused to let inspectors visit the facility -- which it describes as a conventional military complex -- saying there must first be a broader framework agreement on how to address the IAEA's questions. 

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The Parchin complex is at the center of Western allegations that Iran has been conducting research and experiments that could serve a nuclear weapons development programme. The Islamic Republic has repeatedly denied any such ambition. 

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Last week, the IAEA said in a report issued to member states that satellite images showed "extensive activities" at the facility southeast of Tehran. 

Western diplomats said this was an allusion to suspected cleaning at Parchin. They have earlier cited other images showing recent activity at the site, including a stream of water, as suggesting Iran is trying to remove evidence. 

 

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An IAEA report last November said Iran had built a large containment vessel in 2000 at Parchin in which to conduct tests that the U.N. agency said were "strong indicators of possible (nuclear) weapon development." 

It said a building was constructed around a large cylindrical object, a vessel designed to contain the detonation of up to 70 kg of high explosives. Diplomatic sources say the suspected tests likely took place about a decade ago. 

Last week, a senior Iranian official was quoted as saying the IAEA had not yet given good enough reasons to visit Parchin. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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