New satellite imagery published on Tuesday may indicate that Iran bulldozed a suspected nuclear site last year in an attempt to obscure advancements in its nuclear program.
Photographs of a suspected former nuclear facility in Sanjarian provided to Fox News by space technology firm Maxar appear to show excavations being carried out at the site beginning last October and continuing into the beginning of this year.
According to the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, which helped analyze the imagery for the right-wing news network, more recent photos showed the site “bulldozed and graded over, like nothing ever happened here."
The institute has previously claimed that Tehran had used the site in the early 2000s to develop and manufacture “a key nuclear weapon subcomponent called a ‘shock wave generator,’" which is necessary “to achieve a supercritical mass for a nuclear explosion."
In a 2019 report — citing Iranian nuclear documents nabbed by the Mossad in 2016 and made public by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 — the institute claimed that the Iranians “made high explosive parts” for a “shock wave generator,” a key component of a nuclear weapon, at Sanjarian.
Equipment used at the site was buried there between 2004-2005 and “no visible activity took place for years to come,” the group tweeted.
"Then, after the seizure of the Nuclear Archive, and the IAEA’s demonstrated ability to use this new evidence to continue its investigation of possible undeclared nuclear materials and activities in Iran, asking for access to two previously unknown [nuclear program] sites in January 2020, which were finally accessed and sampled in September, Iran was back at the burial site within a month to undertake excavations that were not completed until January 2021.”
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"The burial site was reopened, but placed under a white sheeting that covered the excavated area, concealing what’s underneath from outside observers, including satellites. Less than two months later, the area appeared abandoned, with only empty trenches left behind.”
On Monday, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi stated that repeated talks with Iran about its undeclared sites had not brought any clarification.
Tehran “has provided no new information in relation to one location, has not answered any of the Agency’s questions nor provided any information in relation to two other locations, and provided a written statement on a fourth location without any substantiating documentation,” he said, asserting that “the lack of progress in clarifying the Agency’s questions concerning the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations seriously affects the ability of the Agency to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program."
"It is serious. Because we have a country that has a very developed and ambitious nuclear program, which is enriching at very high levels, very close to weapons-grade," he said.
After the U.S. withdrew from the international nuclear agreement in 2018, Tehran turned its back on the limitations the deal placed on its nuclear program. Iran also began to make it more difficult for inspectors to monitor activities at nuclear facilities.
Diplomats from Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China have been trying to mediate between the U.S. and Iran at talks under way in Vienna since April. The aim is to save the nuclear pact.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday said he anticipates that even if Iran and the United States return to compliance with the nuclear deal, hundreds of U.S. sanctions on Tehran would remain in place.
"I would anticipate that even in the event of a return to compliance with the JCPOA, hundreds of sanctions will remain in place, including sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. If they are not inconsistent with the JCPOA, they will remain unless and until Iran's behavior changes," Blinken told a Senate committee.
DPA and Reuters contributed to this report.