Robert Kelley: Recent claims of IAEA that Iranians trying to hide activity at Parchin site not supported by evidence
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
On January 16, the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, will be back in Iran continuing their negotiations to further inspect the nuclear program of Iran. Now joining us to discuss what’s at stake in all of this is Bob Kelley. Robert is the nuclear engineer who’s carried out IAEA inspections in many countries, including Iraq. He worked for the IAEA in ’92 and ’93, and again from 2001 to 2009. He worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S. for 25 years. He’s currently a senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. And he joins us now from Vienna.
Thanks for joining us, Bob.
ROBERT KELLEY, FMR. DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: Good evening.
JAY: So, first of all, what is the importance of the meetings on January 16?
KELLEY: Well, this is another in a series of meetings that IAEA has been holding on what’s called the political military dimensions, possible military dimensions of Iran’s program. They’ve been going on now for well over a year. And each meeting ends in a communique that says, we’re just about ready to close a deal. The deals don’t seem to get closed.
It’s mostly about going to a site in Iran near Tehran called Parchin. Parchin is a very large military explosives plant, and the IAEA thinks there’s something there that we need to see.
JAY: Okay. So this isâ€”as you say, there’s been a sort of a pattern before these meetings with sort of expectations raised that everything’s going to get sorted out, and then IAEA comes back disappointed they didn’t get what they wanted. But there are some specific issues that the IAEA has been raising that they say Iran is not cooperating with or is trying to hide something. So let’s go through these issues one by one. And I have to say, I’m not an expert in all of this, so I’ve asked Robert to help me with the questions I’m asking, ’cause I’m not sure I know all the right questions to ask. So here’s question number one:
Did Iran demolish the buildings the IAEA wants to visit, which is something they are accusing Iran of? What’s your answer to that, Bob?
KELLEY: No, they didn’t demolish the buildings that the agency wants to see. In fact, the most important building is still standing and has been undergoing some renovation, but it’s still there. IAEA is claiming that five buildings there have been destroyed. But the only one I can see of any significance is a garage.
JAY: And this is at this Parchin site that they keep talking about.
KELLEY: Yes, this is at Parchin. Parchin is a huge site with maybe 1,000 buildings. But there’s a small site that the agency is interested in.
JAY: And what do they think is going on there that makes them so interested?
KELLEY: Someone has told them that there were experiments there involving explosives and nuclear materials. The agency has not been able to make a good case that that’s true, but they seem to dogmatically believe it ’cause someone’s told them that.
JAY: And that someone we think is probably Israel.
KELLEY: Well, some external intelligence agency certainly has spoken to IAEA and given them information, which the agency is not sharing with the public, except in bits and pieces. So they believe that if there were explosives there involving both uranium and explosives, then that would probably be a violation of Iran’s safeguards agreements, international agreements, and would lead to some kind of sanctions.
JAY: So if we look at these photographs, what we’re seeing is it looks like there’s been construction activity around this what you’re saying looks like a garage, and the IAEA is suggesting they’re trying to clean up, cover something up. What’s your take when you look at these photographs?
KELLEY: Well, the large, long white building that you see in the image is much bigger than the garage. The one that was torn down was about the size of a four-car garage. But that big white building supposedly contains a great big steel explosive containment chamber, in which Iran would have been doing experiments. And IAEA has failed to make the case that those experiments actually happened or are necessary. If there were no experiments in that building involving uranium, then IAEA has no business going there, and the Iranians saying, you have no business going there.
JAY: And how do they know what’s going on inside that building? Or what makes them think that there’s such a thing happening there? This is, again, based on this information from this intelligence agency.
KELLEY: Well, exactly, yeah. They say, someone told us. If you go back and read the report that IAEA wrote in November 2011, they say, someone told us there’s a chamber here and this is what they were doing. The agency has no independent information to state that. So they’re just believing someone else.
JAY: Your point when looking at the photographs is that maybe they knocked down a garage, but there’s no evidence of any other kind of cleanup going on there.
KELLEY: There is a huge amount of bulldozing going on. And this is one of the things that IAEA is screaming about that doesn’t make any sense. IAEA is saying, well, they took down the security fences; this worries us. Normally when people take down security fences, it’s because they’re reducing security. So that shouldn’t worry IAEA.
But then the agency says, well, they are bulldozing nearly 25 hectaresâ€”what’s that?â€”over 50 acres of land near this building. What they don’t point out is it’s far from the building in normal terms. It’s as if it’s saying, we’re worried about something that’s happening in the White House, and someone is bulldozing the Mall near the Capitol, and that worries us. There is no connection between the two things.
Now, immediately around this building of interest, they have taken out some parking lots and done some bulldozing, but that won’t affect the way the IAEA takes samples.
JAY: What do the Iranians say is going on in that area around the bulldozing and the garage and that?
KELLEY: I don’t believe that the Iranians have made any public statement. I haven’t seen it. So if they’ve said anything, I have not seen any such statement. They just in general say, IAEA, you have no business coming to this site, what we’re doing here doesn’t concern you, so go away.
JAY: Bob, we’re showing people a photograph which is a larger section of that area. I guess it shows a lot of the 25 hectares. What are we seeing in this photograph?
KELLEY: Well, I think a good analogy there would be to say it’s like the Washington Mall. You see that red zone is very long and thin. It extends in both directions away from this building more than a half a kilometer. And in that area there have been lots of piles of dirt and old trees and things that are now being flattened out.
The area in yellow is the area right next to the building that one might argue, if there was uranium to be found on the ground there, this is the area that one might look. And in that area in yellow, Iran has in fact done some bulldozing.
But immediately to the other side of the building, you see in green right next to the building they’ve done nothing, they’ve done nothing at all.
And it’s very clear why this is happening. The area in green is a rocky cliff, and that all along that red area is a rocky cliff. So the area that’s flat inside the red boundary is being flattened as a construction site, and the rocky cliff is not, because you don’t build buildings on a rocky cliff.
JAY: So the IAEA is suggesting that all this bulldozing could prevent them from looking for uranium samples. What do you make of that argument?
KELLEY: That’s a pretty specious argument. When you look for a uranium environment, particularly when you’re looking for traces of a few grams that might have been handled inside that white building, you do it with very powerful sampling techniques that involve very clean wipes. And you look at corners and crevices inside the building and try to take small samples.
You don’t take samples of dirt. That’s not how sampling of this kind is done for tracing things in the environment, because all dirt has uranium in it and it’s impossible to find the particles you’re looking for if you take dirt samples. So the samples that they need to take are inside the building and inside the equipment. So the bulldozing really doesn’t make much difference.
I would point out that there was a case where water seemed to have run from the building into a ditch. And if that were part of a cleanup effort and they washed uranium into the ditch, that would be a place where you might look for bulk uranium, ’cause that ditch has been covered up by this bulldozing effort. But that’s not how you take environmental samples in general. You take them inside the building.
JAY: Now, what if the IAEA does want bulk samples because they think for some reason they’re going to get a better sampling and they’re saying now the bulk samples won’t be as effective?
KELLEY: Well, they’d walk out the door of the building and they’d walk about 15 paces to the west, which happens to be down in that image, and the area has been completely undisturbed. So they can do whatever they want there. They can take samples of dirt and they can take samples of vegetation. They can look under rocks to see if there is a place where contamination might be hiding. So if they want to go west of the building, they don’t even have to put their shoes on. That’s part of the reason.
JAY: The IAEA is suggesting that Iran used pink tarps to cover up the site in the summer of 2012 to kind of cover up what they were doing in terms of getting rid of some of the dirt and such. What do you make of that?
KELLEY: Well, I find that to be somewhat hilarious. The agency says that they were shrouding the buildings with pink tarps. Normally you don’t camouflage things with bright pink tarps. And those tarps jumped out at you on the satellite imagery. Well, they’re not tarps at all. That’s styrofoam insulation, such that is used throughout the world when you’re renovating a building.
JAY: But there is something in terms of how the Iranians are acting as well, is there not? The Parchin site, if I understand it correctly, was more or less dormant for quite some time and then all of a sudden got very active. And the IAEA, at least, is saying the Iranians have yet to explain why it got so active.
KELLEY: Oh, I couldn’t agree with you more. People say to me all the time, look, Bob, if Iran wanted to solve this problem, all they have to do is let the IAEA in, or they could let someone else in. They could let a busload of reporters go to the place, or they could let an American team go through.
I actually thought when the Non-Aligned Movement had their meeting in Tehran a few months ago that they were going to let the NAM come in and take pictures and say what’s going on. But they don’t do that. And I think in that sense they’re behaving shamefully, because they’ve totally messed up a site where it could be either a crime scene or it could be a scene that gives them total vindication that the IAEA is wrong. And all of this activity they’ve done has just muddied the waters.
But you have to go back and look. IAEA visited two other buildings at Parchin and made two other visits to Parchin and never said what they were looking for and never said what they found. And so the Iranians are saying, now, wait a minute, if you’re going to make a big deal about coming here and you’re going to stake the reputation of your agency that we’re doing something, you’re going to have to say afterwards what happened. I mean, if the IAEA goes in there and doesn’t find anything, I think the director general has staked the reputation of their agency on a very flimsy premise.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Robert.
KELLEY: You’re most welcome.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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