A casual passerby or even a spy satellite would see only a lavish estate of grand villas dotted among lush gardens and large orchards. They would not see past this innocent-looking facade to the vast infrastructure underneath Iran’s most covert subterranean facility for uranium enrichment. At this installation, undisclosed to the United Nations watchdog, a process goes forward to advance the nuclear weapon program whose existence Tehran piously denies.
Each villa has a four-car garage to camouflage the comings and goings to and from the facilities. Real families live there and turn on the lights at night.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal that the “nuclear garden suburb” is located in the township or suburb of Nour in the Lavizan district of northeast Tehran. It is the secret military site referred to by the opposition in exile, the National Council for Resistance in Iran – NCRI, the political face of the Mojaheddin e-Khalq, at twin news conferences on Wednesday, November 17. Farid Soleimani in Vienna and Mohammad Mohadessin in Paris reported that this plant would enable the Islamic republic to continue clandestine enrichment operations in violation of its suspension pledge to European foreign ministers. The group, registered as a terrorist organization in the United States and Europe, has passed detailed information on the site to the International Atomic energy Agency in Vienna. Its past tip-offs on Iran’s nuclear program have held up.
Another claim that Iran was cheating came on the same day from an unexpected quarter, US secretary of state Colin Powell. During his South American tour, he told reporters: the US has intelligence that Iran is working to adapt missiles for delivery of nuclear weapons. “I have seen information that they not only have the missiles but are working hard to put the two together.”
These revelations tumbled out embarrassingly just three days after the German, British and French foreign ministers announced triumphantly that Iran had pledged to suspend uranium enrichment indefinitely in return for generous incentives.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Tehran, the disclosures rocked Iran’s hardline leaders back on their heels. They had been so sure they had managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the UN nuclear watchdog this time by concealing their most secret military facility. It is used not only for enrichment, but also for testing lethal gases and toxic biological agents.
Earlier this year, they were almost caught out.
Washington notified the IAEA that unusual levels of radioactive emissions indicated that Iran was hiding a nuclear facility at the Lavizan military base.
Before the 1979 Islamic revolution, this sprawling base was home to the elite Immortal Guards entrusted with guarding the lives of the shah and royal family. Khomeini converted it for the shared use of the national security agency and Revolutionary Guards units.
By the time the international inspectors reached Lavizan, the Iranians had prepared the scene – leading them first to the wrong site, some 3 km from the suspect one, and leveling all the standing structures with bulldozers. Inspectors’ queries were greeted with blank faces.
(See also DNW 160 of June 4, 2004: Iraq‘s Nuclear Program: Another Vanishing Trick.)
Sanctions would threaten the regime
The Mohahedin e-Khalq’s European branch may be expected to follow up our disclosure of the Nour nuclear site with more revelations of Tehran’s ruses to conceal its banned nuclear projects and deceive international inspectors. They have six days to operate in. On November 25, the IAEA holds a crucial board meeting in Vienna. The three European powers had planned to present their suspension accord with Iran to this meeting. They were confident that this time it would hold up. Iran was so anxious to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States and avoid being hauled up before the UN Security Council that it embodied its pledge in a document of 33 clauses for greater credibility. Their hope was to get the Americans off their backs.
But the reelection of George W. Bush as US president is regarded as a major setback in Tehran. They fear it has brought much closer a real threat of UN sanctions which might well undermine Iran’s economy and spark a popular uprising.
This does not mean that Tehran intends to abide by its commitment this time any more than it has in the past. But time is of the essence. The ayatollahs hope to get safely past the nuclear watchdog’s board without a complaint to the Security Council. After that, they can draw on their bagful of pretexts to keep their program running. After all, they only promised to halt enrichment as of November 22. The Europeans turned a blind eye to their previous pledge three months ago to halt enrichment indefinitely and may be counted on to do so again.
Seen from the perspective of Tehran’s hardline rulers, Iranian diplomats led by President Mohammed Khatami, have made too many “concessions” to the Europeans for dubious returns.
They warn that the billions of dollars the Islamic republic has sunk in the program may go to waste if it is abruptly curtailed. The Majlis (parliament) entered the fray. It put Hojjat-ol-Eslam Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s leading nuclear negotiator with Europe, on the carpet, in two closed meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday, November 16 and 17, and demanded to know exactly how far he had gone.
Tehran believes it has conceded too much
Later, Iranian officials presented the deal with Europe as a great diplomatic victory for Tehran. A senior official Hossein Moussavian stressed that Iran would only honor its commitments if the Europeans carried out their share of the bargain. If they failed to do so, Iran would be off the hook. He promised the hardliners that the deal was basically a test of Europe’s willingness
to cooperate with Islamic republic in the development of nuclear energy for peaceful uses. They would have to give more than one proof of their bona fides.
First it was up to them to ascertain that no complaint to the Security Council came out of the nuclear agency’s meeting in Vienna. Next they must make good on their promise to resume without delay the EU-Iran trade negotiations, suspended for more than a year against an Iranian pledge to suspend nuclear enrichment indefinitely. The Europeans would also be held to their pledge to set up joint working groups by December 15 to draw up a timetable for talks on a mutual diplomatic, security, nuclear and economic cooperation pact.
Tehran is putting Europe on notice to wind up these talks within three months.
One hardliner did not buy this. He commented sourly that Iran has given Europe precious pearls and received only candies on a stick. Another official said the candy had not even been delivered, only promised. An Iranian lawmaker chipped in to declare the entire deal with the Europeans illegal because it contravened an earlier majlis resolution forbidding the government to halt nuclear enrichment.
While this sounds like a major domestic row over the European-Iranian agreement, it may be no more than a charade, another trick to demonstrate to the Europeans that Tehran’s negotiators have their backs to the wall at home for making excessive and painful concessions.
Iranian security services meanwhile carry on their witch-hunt for suspected nuclear spies. According to our sources in Tehran, four Iranian nuclear scientists are on trial for espionage. The intelligence ministry has at least five more dossiers in preparation. The government believes that scientists working on the national nuclear program are feeding secrets to the Mojaheddin e-Khalq.