Sampling At Parchin

It looks like the much-discussed sampling at Iran’s Parchin military base has taken place. Or perhaps a preliminary set of samples. The IAEA and Iran remain tight-lipped on the details.

Predictably, the Associated Press says their earlier report was right. I make no guarantees that that link will continue to their story, and I’m tired of taking screenshots to try to deal with AP’s constant changing of their stories and URLs. But, given the last month or so on Twitter, I am sure that their story that they got everything right will persist.

Let’s look at what the parties to the activity have to say.

Here are remarks to the press by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, and by Deputy Director General Tero Varjoranta. AP reporters on Twitter were fond of this Reuters report quoting the Iranian news agency IRNA.

IRNA, of course, spins the news to favor Iranian government messages. They said that Iranian experts took samples without IAEA inspectors being present. They did not say whether the samples were taken with IAEA video surveillance, but they did say that they “followed regulations and standards,” which may well be the IAEA’s. The article has no quotes from the IAEA. The news value is that this is what IRNA said, but the story is incomplete in describing the operation, given that IRNA is not an unbiased source.

Amano and Varjoranta toured the Parchin site. According to the AP’s earlier report based on a single document now at an undisclosed URL, that was to happen after the sampling took place, although the IRNA statement did not exclude the possibility of further samples. Whether or not this was the full extent of sampling at Parchin hasn’t been stated by anybody.

Amano says that he entered a building, presumably the one that others have focused on as the possible location of an explosives containment chamber in which nuclear-weapons-related experiments are alleged to have been done. He says that he saw indications of recent renovation work and no apparatus. “Environmental samples were taken.” More:

As a result of experience gained over the years, the Agency has, in certain circumstances, permitted States’ representatives to carry out activities in support of the Agency’s verification work. This is done in a way that ensures that the Agency’s verification processes are not compromised.

In the case of Parchin, the Iranian side played a part in the sample-taking process by swiping samples.

The Agency can confirm the integrity of the sampling process and the authenticity of the samples, which were taken at places of interest to the Agency at the particular location in Parchin.

Varjoranta’s statement summarizes “12 of the main elements” of sampling. Amano’s description and Varjoranta’s 12 elements correspond closely to the description I gave of the probable sampling process. There are differences, but not big ones; all three descriptions condense long and detailed procedures.

It’s not surprising that the building contained no apparatus. The nuclear-weapons-related experiments were done before 2003. The apparatus may have been removed before it became an issue with the IAEA. We just don’t know. And the possible renovations may have removed evidence that might be picked up with swipe samples. The IAEA will probably not make their detailed analyses public, in keeping with their agreement with Iran.

A great deal of attention has focused on Parchin, and sampling there became something of a test of wills. Parchin is far from the only piece of evidence that IAEA will consider in its evaluation of Iran’s past history. IAEA has now been able to take samples there. That is a step forward. Things appear to be on schedule for the IAEA’s report to its Board of Governors in December.

Photo and annotations from the Institute for Science and International Security. Date of photo is January 2013.