- Associated Press - Monday, November 21, 2011

VIENNA, Austria — Satellite surveillance has shown an increase in activity at an Iranian site suspected of links to secret work on nuclear weapons, officials tell the Associated Press.

One of the officials cited intelligence from his home country, saying it appeared Tehran is trying to cover its tracks by sanitizing the site and removing any evidence of nuclear research and development.

Counterparts from two other countries confirmed sightings of increased activity but said they did not have reasons to believe it was linked to such efforts.

Their focus is on a structure thought to be housing a large metal chamber at a military site that a Nov. 8 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report said was being used for nuclear-related explosives testing.

Officials from the three IAEA member countries say that recent satellite imagery of the site, at Parchin, southwest of Tehran, shows increased activity, including an unusual number of vehicles arriving and leaving.

One of the officials described the movements, recorded Nov.4-5, as unusual and said his country views it as evidence that Iran is trying to “clean” the area of traces of weapons-related work.

“Freight trucks, special haulage vehicles and cranes were seen entering and leaving. … Some equipment and dangerous materials were removed from the site,” said a summary he provided to the AP.

His counterparts agreed that activity at the site was higher than usual, but could not conclude that it pointed to an attempted cover-up by the Iranians.

The IAEA was alerted to the suspicions late last week, and a senior diplomat familiar with the issue said the agency was closely monitoring all suspect sites mentioned in the agency’s report. He, like the officials, asked for anonymity because his information was confidential.

The IAEA said it would have no comment.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief delegate to the IAEA, dismissed the reports as “childish stories.” He told the AP that he had not heard of any such activity and described the claims as “ridiculous.”

The large complex is used for research, development and production of ammunition, missiles and high explosives. IAEA inspectors visited the Parchin site twice in 2005 and were allowed to pick several buildings at random that revealed nothing suspicious.

But a former inspector who was part of that inspection told the AP that the site was too vast to be able to draw conclusions on the basis of such restricted and haphazard visits.

Iran - which is under U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to stop work that could be used to arm nuclear warheads - asserts that it is interested only in producing energy.

But it has refused for more than three years to allow the IAEA to probe growing suspicions that it is conducting research and development of such weapons.

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