Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.
Ahead of Monday’s two-day talks in Vienna between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the West’s demands on Iran “are so minimal, that even if Iran accepts all of them it will still be able to continue and make progress with its nuclear program.”
“It must completely cease its enrichment activities inside Iran, including to levels of 3.5 percent,” Barak said.
The U.N. atomic watchdog came to Vienna to press its demand for access to an Iranian military site, which could influence the prospects for a broader diplomatic push to settle the decade-old stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. The May 14–15 meeting was meant as a test of Iran’s readiness to address U.N. inspectors’ suspicions of military links to its nuclear program, in advance of high-stakes talks in Baghdad between the two sides May 23.
Iran and the powers involved in nuclear diplomacy—the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany—revived negotiations in Istanbul last month after a 15-month hiatus, and both sides say they hope for progress in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, a drawing based on information from inside the Parchin military site near Tehran, released by The Associated Press (AP) on Sunday, shows an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests.
Last November, the IAEA issued a report that Iran in 2000 had built a large containment chamber at Parchin in which to conduct high-explosives tests that the IAEA said are “strong indicators of possible [nuclear] weapon development.”
The Israeli defense minister said that intelligence agencies are familiar with the image, telling Israel’s Army Radio on Monday that “this diagram is part of the information known to all leading intelligence agencies in the free world for some time.”
Barak said the image reaffirms the need to halt Iran’s nuclear capabilities.
The computer-generated drawing was provided to AP by an official of a country tracking Iran’s nuclear program who said it proves the structure exists, despite Tehran’s refusal to acknowledge it.
The image is based on information from a person who had seen the chamber at the Parchin military site, that official said, adding that going into detail would endanger the life of that informant. The official comes from an IAEA member country that is severely critical of Iran’s assertions that its nuclear activities are peaceful and asserts they are a springboard for making atomic weapons.
A former senior IAEA official said he believes the drawing is accurate. Olli Heinonen, until last year the U.N. nuclear agency’s deputy director-general in charge of the Iran file, said it was “very similar” to a photo he recently saw that he believes to be the pressure chamber the IAEA suspects is at Parchin.
He said even the colors of the computer-generated drawing matched that of the photo he had but declined to go into the origins of the photo to protect his source.
In Tehran on Sunday, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, said it was up to the Western nations coming to the Baghdad talks to “build trust of the Iranian nation,” adding, “Any kind of miscalculation by the West will block success of the talks.”
Attempts to get an Iranian comment on the matter were unsuccessful. A copy of the diagram was attached to an email sent to Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, with a note that the AP would be asking for a reaction. Subsequent phone calls over the weekend went to his voice mail.
The technology used for the suspected multipoint explosives trigger experiments is similar to that employed in manufacturing tiny industrialized diamonds, and the IAEA believes former Soviet scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko—an expert in such diamond-making—helped Iran with designing the chamber.
Diplomats say Danilenko has told the agency that he did not work on such a chamber, but his son-in-law, identified by the diplomats as Vladimir Padalko, told the IAEA that the container was built under Danilenko’s direct supervision. Repeated attempts by media organizations to contact the two men have been unsuccessful since the IAEA revealed Danilenko’s suspected involvement in November.
“What one does inside such a chamber is conduct high explosives testing,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Program of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “You are going to make something go boom with maybe 70 kilograms [154 pounds] of high explosives, you need to contain the explosion.”
“And particularly if you are using uranium, which is reportedly the case, you want to contain all the uranium dust so there’s not any tell-tale, observable signals of that experimentation,” Fitzpatrick said.