Monday, September 21, 2015

CNN Gets IAEA Parchin Visit Dead Wrong

CNN reported today on what they apparently thought was really big news.
The United Nations' nuclear watchdog [sic*] has carried out its first-ever inspection of Iran's Parchin military site -- with Iranian help, the agency announced Monday.
According to CNN, the investment in diplomacy with Iran is already paying dividends, with Iran finally allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to access and investigate a long-suspect military site to assess whether experiments related to nuclear weapon detonation were carried out there over a decade ago. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano personally visited the site, namely the building that has been specifically identified as containing a detonation chamber, on Sunday and found nothing there. Environmental samples were taken at the site the following day.

To announce this latest development, the CNN headline blared: "IAEA inspects Iran's Parchin military site for first time."

In truth - something that is apparently unimportant to reporters Frederik Pleitgen and Brian Walker and their editors - Sunday's official visit and Monday's collection of environmental samples actually marked the third and fourth times IAEA officials were allowed access to the Parchin facility, not the first.

Two Previous Inspections in 2005 Yielded No Evidence of Weapons Work

When allegations first arose about Parchin, which is a non-nuclear military site and therefore not legally subject to international safeguards or inspections, then-IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the press in September 2004, "We do not have any indication that this site has any nuclear-related activities. However, we will continue to investigate this and other sites, we'll continue to have a dialogue with Iran."

As part of those investigations and requests made by the IAEA, Iran voluntarily granted inspectors managed access to Parchin twice in 2005, once in January and again in November of that year. Because these inspections were conducted outside the framework of the Iran's legal obligations under both the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards, they were described as "transparency visit[s]."

Parchin is sprawling facility with hundreds of buildings and test sites. According to the IAEA, Iran permitted inspectors to visit any single area of their choosing at the vast complex "in order to provide assurance regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities at that site." Of the four areas identified by the IAEA as being of interest based on satellite surveillance imagery and third-party data and intelligence, inspectors selected one and requested to visit five buildings in that sector.

Olli Heinonen, a leading Iran hawk and nuclear alarmist who was the IAEA's deputy-general of safeguards at the time and led those inspections, told Christian Science Monitor's Scott Peterson precisely how the visit went down:
The selection [of target buildings] did not take place in advance, it took place just when we arrived, so all of Parchin was available... When we drove there and arrived, we told them which building.
In its review of the visit, the IAEA reported:
The Agency was given free access to those buildings and their surroundings and was allowed to take environmental samples, the results of which did not indicate the presence of nuclear material, nor did the Agency see any relevant dual use equipment or materials in the locations visited.
After requesting additional access to another part of Parchin, inspectors were allowed back in November 2005. The IAEA "was given access to the buildings requested within the area of interest at Parchin," an agency report noted, "in the course of which environmental samples were taken. The Agency did not observe any unusual activities in the buildings visited." A final report on the second visit concluded that "the results of the analysis of environmental samples did not indicate the presence of nuclear material at those locations."

Paragraph 32 of the IAEA's February 27, 2006 safeguards report on the Iranian nuclear program

Entrenching False Narratives of Iranian Intransigence

The latest round of inspections at Parchin are a welcome step in the normalization of Iran's nuclear dossier within the IAEA and the resolution of the manufactured nuclear impasse in general. CNN's lack of historical knowledge about Iran's past confidence-building measures and voluntary actions to dispel allegations of nuclear weapons work, however, serves only to further entrench the false narrative that Iran has always had something to hide.

A prime example of how this narrative permeates media coverage was seen in on July 14 when The New York Times' William Broad described Parchin as "an Iranian military base from which inspectors have recently been barred," adding, "It is the site of suspected experimentation into nuclear arms."

And when the samples taken at Parchin today are analyzed and it is revealed that no nuclear material is present at the site in question, will the phony intel that started all this nonsense be condemned and the case finally closed?

No, of course not.


* The media constantly - and erroneously - describes the IAEA as the "United Nation's nuclear watchdog." It is not. It works in collaboration with the UN, but is not a part of it. It is, as noted by international law expert Dan Joyner, "not a general policeman of international nuclear energy law." Joyner adds:
The agency is an independent international organization, which was created through a treaty -- an instrument of international law. As such, it has only the international legal personality and the limited mandate of legal authority, which are provided both in the agency's statute and in its bilateral Safeguards Agreements with member states.
With regard to Iran, the IAEA's mandate is simple and clear. Outlined in its 1974 safeguards agreement, the agency is to apply safeguards on all of Iran's fissile material "for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

In dozens of reports over the past decade, the IAEA has repeatedly and consistently confirmed that Iran has never diverted nuclear material to military purposes.

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October 2, 2015 - Investigative reporter Gareth Porter and nuclear expert Yousaf Butt have each published excellent articles on the IAEA's embarrassing wild goose chase at Parchin. They are both well worth your time.


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