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Iran’s covert nuclear activity continues

Tehran is still pursuing research and testing that could lead to a weaponized nuclear device, the Iranian opposition said Friday. One military site in particular, Parchin, has come under scrutiny for allegedly continuing covert nuclear weapons work despite Iran’s commitment to end such activity as part of the nuclear deal.
According to intelligence documents released by the National Council of Iranian Resistance (NCIR), Tehran has found new ways to circumvent nuclear inspections and remains committed to continuing military research, which could lead to miniaturized nuclear warheads that could be installed on medium- and long-range ballistic missiles.
For years, Parchin was at the center of Iran’s nuclear weapons work. In 2016, the US and international inspectors concluded that traces of uranium discovered at Parchin in 2015 indicated a complex and fairly advanced nuclear research and testing program, the Wall Street Journal reported.
But as part of the nuclear deal, Iran never had to publicly disclose how far its nuclear weapons development had progressed (it still denies that its nuclear research had any other purpose than civilian use). Parchin is labeled a military base that is off limits to international inspections, on the premise that all nuclear-related work there has ceased. According to recent revelations, this is not the case.
“A new location tied to the nuclear weapons project... has been kept a secret until now and away from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors,” said the NCIR. Its sources within Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) say the engineering unit responsible for the nuclear weapons program, the SPND, is continuing its work on the same scale as before the 2015 nuclear deal.
The intelligence indicates that as part of this program, Iran is continuing its research to develop a trigger for a nuclear weapon at the Center for Research and Expansion of Technologies for Explosion and Impact. This weapon development is conducted under the codename “Research Academy” at Parchin. Since it is declared a “conventional” military site, IAEA inspectors are not allowed in.

If the nuclear deal has halted  “all pathways” for Iran to become a nuclear power, why are its leading nuclear weapons program officers still allowed to continue their work outside any effective international monitoring?

Oubai Shahbandar
 

Essentially, as Iran was negotiating the nuclear deal, it was trying to develop “back-up” sites to safely move, conceal and continue nuclear weapons research and possible tests. This would enable Iran to play the long game, so when the deal’s terms expire in about a decade, it could theoretically move forward quickly to enrich and weaponize a nuclear device and achieve a nuclear “breakout “capability before anyone can launch a military strike.
This information is particularly important given that as part of the deal, the Obama administration agreed to free seven Iranians in US custody on charges of smuggling dual-use components for Iran’s nuclear and military program. The US also agreed to halt efforts to arrest 14 other sanctioned serial Iranian smugglers and proliferators associated with the IRGC’s Quds Force.
Iran has been allowed to maintain the tools and resources to obtain fissile material for a nuclear bomb. In tandem, it is developing technology to fit a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. The raison d’etre of the SPND program and Parchin research center is to convert nuclear research into a nuclear weapon. Iran is able to continue misleading and dissembling on the true purpose of the research center without any meaningful concern for repercussions.
IAEA inspectors have been offered no access to the lead Iranian scientist in the covert nuclear program, Mohsen Mahabadi (alias Dr. Hassan Mohseni). Tehran uses his dual role as an IRGC brigadier general to shield him from international inspection. The NCIR information claims Mahabadi is still active in the SPND’s nuclear weapons research activity.
If the nuclear deal has halted “all pathways” for Iran to become a nuclear power, why are its leading nuclear weapons program officers still allowed to continue their work outside any effective international monitoring?
The NCIR’s revelations include full detailed satellite imagery and an organizational chart of Parchin and SPND weaponization facilities. It would be folly for the international community not to take a closer look at how Iran is planning to use the time and sanctions relief that the nuclear deal affords it to reach its ultimate goal of becoming a nuclear power with the ability to threaten the region with annihilation.

• Oubai Shahbandar is a former Department of Defense senior adviser, and currently a strategic communications consultant specializing in Middle Eastern and Gulf affairs.