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Satellite images suggest Iran might be scrubbing contested nuclear facility

Satellite images suggest Iran might be scrubbing contested nuclear facility

New satellite images of a contested Iranian military facility suggest officials may be scrubbing down the site to remove signs of nuclear activity.

Images released by the Institute for Science and International Security reveal a number of new crates, vehicles and oil spills at the Parchin military facility, which could indicate that Iran is trying to clean up the site before international inspectors arrive. 

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“This renewed activity occurring after the signing of the [Iran nuclear agreement] raises obvious concerns that Iran is conducting further sanitization efforts to defeat [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] verification,” the think tank said in a statement.

“Although it is difficult to fathom Iran’s motivations for its recent actions at Parchin, this renewed activity may be a last ditch effort to try to ensure that no incriminating evidence will be found.”

The images match up with reports on Wednesday that U.S. intelligence officials have discovered that Iran is trying to sanitize the Parchin site, where Iran is suspected of having conducted tests on materials related to a nuclear bomb.

The State Department declined to weigh in on the government’s intelligence assessments about the site but maintained on Thursday that inspectors would be able to detect signs of activity related to building a nuclear weapon.

“Let’s be very clear that we’re able to detect, as I said, and monitor this kind of activity, if it were happening,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

“We’re confident going forward that we’ll be able to have eyes on whatever is ongoing or being covered up.”

Iran denied the allegations, calling them “preposterous” and “baseless.”

The movement seen at the military complex, it claimed, was merely part of an “extensive” construction project on a nearby road that had begun sinking over the past week.

“We regret that the extensive vicious campaign at work, using tens of millions of dollars, to poison the positive environment at the global level, which followed the conclusion” of the nuclear agreement, Iran’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its religious beliefs and defense doctrine, has never had any military nuclear activity and has never been engaged in any unconventional act that would need a hasty cover-up.”

The signs of new activity threaten to further complicate oversight of Parchin, which has become a flashpoint in Congress’s attempts to oversee the nuclear deal.

Among other complaints, some congressional lawmakers in both parties have raised alarm about bilateral agreements between the IAEA and Iran over its ability to inspect the Parchin site and evaluate past militarization of Iran’s nuclear program.

The IAEA has refused to make the text of those agreements available to lawmakers, citing their confidential nature, which has infuriated lawmaker on both sides of the aisle.

Critics have alleged that international inspectors will be prevented from gaining unfettered access to the site and that Iran will essentially be able to submit its own samples to the IAEA for inspection.

On Wednesday, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano briefed Senate lawmakers on its responsibilities under the Iran deal. Many emerged from the nearly two-hour long meeting appearing frustrated that their questions weren’t being answered.

— This story was updated at 4:55 p.m.