The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said publicly for the first time Monday that the U.N. agency suspects Iran has been cleaning away traces of a 2003 nuclear weapons test ahead of possible inspections of the military facility south of Tehran.
IAEA Director Yukiya Amano told the 35-nation board of directors gathered in Vienna that he will meet Iranian officials on Friday to push for his inspectors' access to the Parchin military complex, according to a text posted on the agency's website. He expressed concern that evidence of prohibited weapons development activity was being cleaned away.
Amano noted that he had discussed "clarification of issues relating to possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program" during a May 21 visit to Tehran, where he was assured Iran was on the verge of allowing international inspections of its nuclear facilities to resume after a four-year halt.
He urged Iranian officials to sign the agreement worked out during his last visit "as soon as possible" and to provide early access to Parchin.
“Information that we have indicates that activities may have been undertaken related to the development of nuclear explosive devices," Amano said, urging Tehran to allow in inspectors to verify that its activities are exclusively peaceful.
The United States, Israel and other nations have for years speculated that Tehran is secretly working to build nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies. Tehran insists its nuclear programs are for civilian purposes, such as energy generation and medical research.
Last week, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security disclosed satellite photos showing that two buildings had recently been razed at Parchin nine years ago. There were also indications from the images that the building where the suspected detonation chamber was located had been sanitized and the surrounding earth removed.
Agency officials are concerned that a cleanup of the Parchin site "may hamper our future verification activities" to determine whether Iran's programs are exclusively peaceful in nature, Amano said.
Iran isn't cooperating with the IAEA sufficiently "to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran," Amano said.
The United States and its allies have demanded that Iran cease enriching uranium to 20%, a potency that can be upgraded to weapons quality in a matter of months. Israel has threatened to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities, saying it would be the likely target of an Iranian nuclear strike.
Iranian officials met in Baghdad two weeks ago with diplomats from Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- for talks aimed at ensuring that Tehran's nuclear developments are free of military applications. No agreements emerged from that forum except to reconvene in Moscow on June 17.
-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: Yukiya Amano at a news conference Monday following his address to IAEA officials in Vienna. Credit: Dieter Nagl / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images