Iran’s military complex at Parchin and the nuclear connection

Reuters

Iran's Head of Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani attends a news conference during the Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety in Vienna in Vienna June 21, 2011.

Introduction

Iran’s nuclear weapons program poses a serious threat to American national security interests. Iran has been working to develop the key components of a nuclear weapons capability for decades – covertly when it can and openly when exposed – in contravention of nuclear nonproliferation pacts it has signed and international obligations it is required to meet. The regime has waged an intensive denial-and-deception campaign intended to facilitate the development of critical technologies and infrastructure and, ultimately, the fulfillment of its nuclear ambitions.

Tehran’s nuclear weapons pursuit has advanced along three interrelated, parallel tracks: acquiring fissile material, weaponization and bomb design, and delivery vehicle development. The acquisition of fissile material is based at facilities near Esfahan, where Iran converts yellowcake into uranium gas, and at Natanz and outside Qom, where Iran enriches uranium gas toward levels required to produce bomb fuel. Iran’s nuclear organizations are also building the foundation for a separate plutonium route for producing bomb fuel at Arak. These facilities, originally built covertly, may be supplemented by additional undeclared sites. The weaponization track of the program, a technically complex step that is nonetheless considered to be less difficult than the mastery of fissile material production, has most recently been associated with a military facility based outside of Tehran at Parchin. Iran used the Parchin facility to conduct nuclear weapons-related experiments, according to information vetted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). 

Many observers have tended to dismiss the weaponization program on the grounds that Iran supposedly suspended it in 2003.  Tehran’s consistent refusals to allow IAEA inspectors into the Parchin facility, therefore, have received less attention than they merit.  That facility, which recent satellite imagery shows to have been extensively reconfigured over the past few months, is of interest not only because of the presumed weaponization facilities there, but because it is a central and vital part of Iran’s diverse and disturbing military industrial program.

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About the Author

 

Maseh
Zarif
  • Maseh Zarif is the deputy director and Iran research Team Lead for the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project. He works on national security issues related to the Middle East and South Asia, with a particular focus on Iran’s nuclear program and its regional activities. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, National Review Online, and Foreign Policy, among others, and has appeared on CNN and Fox. Before joining AEI, he worked for several years in corporate finance as an analyst and a consultant.

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