On Monday the Associated Press (AP) reported that air, soil, and dust samples have been taken from the Parchin nuclear site, but it was Iranian nuclear experts with no IAEA staff present, who took the collection. IAEA chief Yukiya Amano claims that the collection was done according to the IAEA guidelines, because everything was observed buy the UN nuclear agency on TV monitors.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has long sought access to Parchin which has long been suspected of being the location were Iran was developing it’s detonation systems for nuclear weapons. In October 2014 Iran admitted to using Parchin to test exploding bridge wires, which are used as nuclear detonators, but they claimed the test explosions were not for weapons development.

Access is needed needs to clarify the nature and scope of Iran’s past nuclear weapons work. What were the possible military dimensions (PMDs) of Iran’s atomic program? They need to establish what the Iranians did and how far they got, which are the prerequisites to setting up a a baseline for an inspection regime against future violations. The Obama administration had promised lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be able to inspect Parchin and resolve all PMD issues before any final deal was inked. But that didn’t happen; instead they allowed Iran to sign a secret side deal with the IAEA permitting the Iranians to self-inspect the facility rather than grant IAEA inspector robust access.

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In world politics very few secrets stay that way. This particular side deal was revealed and published by the AP (there is at least one more side deal which remains hidden). What we learned from the deal published by the AP is the Iranians would get to collect their own samples at Parchin, those samples would have to come from mutually agreed upon areas under overlapping photo and video surveillance, and the number of the samples would be limited. An Iranian statement this morning confirmed that the Iranians collected their own samples:

“Iranian experts took samples from specific locations in Parchin facilities this week without IAEA inspectors being present.”

An IAEA statement confirmed the sampling was done from mutually agreed upon areas under overlapping photo and video surveillance:

“The determination of the spots where the samples are taken is a separate, important, careful activity…. [that] have to satisfy our requirements… the actual swiping or other sample taking [place] under redundant continuous surveillance.”

It’s not yet proven that the AP report was also correct about the number of samples being limited, but so far everything else in their exclusive report about the side deal has been correct so I suspect we will learn that is true also.

The arrangement on paper revealed in the AP side deal report and whose implementation was acknowledged Monday, means that there will be no accurate baseline; the IAEA will not be able to establish what happened at Parchin.

David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, explained at a panel hosted earlier this month by the Hudson Institute that self-sampling under surveillance is inadequate. Inspectors need to be on the ground to identify dusty nooks and corners where violators forgot to dust; the mutually agreed upon areas are by definition the ones that violators know have been sanitized:

“What you have is, is the situation where there’ll be videotaping of the potential locations where sampling would take place. Then the IAEA would direct the Iranians to take the samples. And that’s not the normal way to do things.


If I could give the example in Iran of Kalaya Electric, a secret centrifuge research and development facility that Iran denied was such a thing. The IAEA got access and it brought in a very top-level centrifuge expert with that access, who looked around. And when they did the sampling finally they didn’t find any trace of enriched uranium in the areas that had been heavily modified. But in another, a secondary building they found in a ventilation duct – which had not been modified – they found traces of enriched uranium…


You need the eyes and the brain to look where to sample.


I brought an example of sampling in North Korea… they sampled in the Yongbyon reprocessing plant in the early 90s… you can see in the sampling they’re looking behind this box… Look for where it’s dusty. The idea is that it’s not been disturbed. In the case of Parchin, it would be look for where the paint doesn’t look solid. And so, that’s very hard to do with a video camera. So I think the video camera opens up additional methods of deceiving the IAEA. And it’s not the normal way they’ve been doing it. And so I think that’s a problem…


The sampling would be done, and then the IAEA access would follow. And so the access is coming at a point where it’s not as useful… You want it to drive the inspection effort and the environmental sampling effort, not be done at the end of the process.”

In other words, the agreement has handicapped the IAEA.

CNN interviewed Olli Heinonen, former IAEA Deputy Director-General for Safeguards, and now Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs about the self-inspection part the deal:

“It is very unusual… I find it really hard to understand why you would let someone else take the samples and only see through the camera” and “It’s really not normal… I don’t know why they accepted it. I think the IAEA is probably getting a little desperate to settle this”

On the Congressional side, a visit by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amanoto the Senate to explain the Iranian self-inspections left Senators very frustrated:

“We just can’t get answers,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said upon exiting the meeting. “It goes back to what is managed access, what restrictions are there and the details regarding Parchin, as it relates to that.”

“We need answers,” he added. “There’s still time for these answers, so let’s get these answers.”

The IAEA reacted to Monday’s leak that samples had been gathered by Iran without IAEA presence, by issuing more assurances about the adequacy of Iranian self-inspections. White House validators have already picked up the “redundant continuous surveillance” theme and you’re likely to hear more of it

The problem with the IAEA assurances is that they belie the truth. Lets face it lawmakers, experts, and even journalists who had problems with high school chemistry (I dropped it) know that the arrangement is not only unprecedented, but that for a truly accurate understanding of Iran’s Parchin operations IAEA inspectors need to be on the ground. Therefore the IAEA statements such as the one above are simply a justification to cover up that the agency has bent to political pressure.