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Iran Still Hiding Key Parts of its Nuclear Programme, US Trying Bribery Again
By Con Coughlin
Originally Published by the Gatestone Institute.
With the Biden administration seemingly keen to recommence negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme, fresh evidence is emerging that Iran’s regime is up to its old tricks by attempting to conceal key elements of the programme from UN inspectors.
Iran has a long and undistinguished history of seeking to conceal the existence of key elements of its nuclear programme dating back to 2002, when a group of Iranian dissidents first revealed the existence of the Natanz nuclear enrichment site.
Enrichment is a crucial process in producing weapons-grade nuclear material, and the fact that Iran managed to build the massive underground facility about 100 miles to the south of Tehran in secret was the first major evidence that the regime was developing nuclear weapons.
Since then there have been many similar instances of Iran seeking to conceal the existence of key facilities from the outside world, such as the Fordow facility which was constructed during the late 2000s under a mountain to protect it from attack.
Now evidence has emerged that, with the Biden administration indicating that it wants to resume negotiations with Tehran on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal negotiated by former US President Barack Obama, Iran has resumed its attempts to conceal vital components from UN inspection teams.
According to recent Western intelligence reports, the equipment Iran is trying to conceal includes machinery, pumps and spare parts for centrifuges, the sophisticated machines used for enriching uranium to weapons grade.
In addition, materials such as carbon fibre, which can be used in the production of advanced centrifuges, are also being stored at secret sites in Iran administered by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has overall responsibility for Iran’s nuclear programme.
Intelligence officials believe the material, which is supposed to be declared to UN inspectors under the terms of JCPOA, is being stored in 75 shipping containers, which are regularly transported around the country to sites administered by the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran (AEOI). Satellite intelligence images show that at least some of the containers have been stored at the AEOI’s uranium conversion facility at Isfahan.
The latest evidence that Iran is continuing to conceal vital elements of its nuclear programme from the outside world suggest that, even if there is a resumption of negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear programme, the regime has little genuine interest in complying with the terms of any future deal.
It also lends weight to concerns that Iran has already resumed work on its nuclear weapons programme, which US intelligence officials say was in existence until at least 2003, and that the regime has continued to retain key elements of the programme in storage despite signing the JCPOA in 2015.
In 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an address to the UN General Assembly, accused Iran of storing key elements of its nuclear programme at secret locations in Tehran.
One of the biggest criticisms of the 2015 deal is that it did not require Iran to provide an explanation for traces of weapons grade uranium that were discovered at numerous sites during routine inspections by UN officials, as well as providing details of other aspects of the nuclear weapons programme, such as the development of ballistic missiles and detonators for nuclear warheads.
These were some of the reasons that prompted the Trump administration to withdraw from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimpose punitive sanctions against Tehran.
Iran has responded by intensifying its non-compliance with the JCPOA, to the extent that the ayatollahs recently announced that they were increasing their uranium stockpiles while increasing the enrichment process to 20 percent, which far exceeds the 3.67 percent limit stipulated by the accord, and is a small technical step away from producing weapons-grade material.
In another provocative move, Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament has ordered the government to start limiting some inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN-sponsored body responsible for monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities.
The move by the Iranian parliament comes after the IAEA published a report revealing that last summer, inspectors found uranium particles at two Iranian nuclear sites that Iran tried to block access to.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said it will return to the nuclear deal if Iran first returns to compliance with the JCPOA. Iran demands the US lift sanctions first, putting the two sides at a stalemate.
The stand-off between Washington and Tehran is likely to continue for as long as Iran demonstrates that it has no genuine interest in ending its quest for nuclear weapons.
The Biden Administration nevertheless looks about to try the bribery route yet again — presumably with the same result as before. Recently, South Korea agreed to release $7 billion in “frozen assets” to Iran “following consultations with the United States.”
The Biden Administration has also apparently been trying to sidestep legally-required congressional approval to funnel more money to Iran and other dictatorships through a new International Monetary Fund programme, “special drawing rights” (SDRs). Through them, Iran would receive an additional $4.5 billion, usable in other currencies. According to the Wall Street Journal, which referred to the program as “Special Dollars for Dictators”, Iran’s leadership will most likely use these newfound billions to strengthen domestic repression, to intensify regional adventurism — Iran’s proxy Houthi rebels in Yemen have already targeted a “large Saudi oil field” — and to escalate their nuclear programme still further.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.