The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency warned Monday that Iran's selective cooperation with his inspectors means that he cannot confirm that all of Tehran's atomic activities are peaceful.
Yukiya Amano also chided Iran for barring some of those inspectors, warning that move hampered his agency's attempts to monitor Iran's nuclear program. And he suggested the jury is still out on allegations that Tehran conducted secret experiments meant to develop atomic arms because the Islamic Republic continues to stonewall an IAEA probe into U.S. and other intelligence reports purporting to contain evidence of such experiments.
Amano's blunt comments, at the start of a 35-nation IAEA board meeting, drew a strong response from Iran, which accused him of distorting facts in a report prepared for the gathering.
"We request the director general to immediately reconsider this sort of reporting ... so that it will not create political tensions," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA.
Iran insists it is interested only in generating energy through enrichment. But since revelations of its secret enrichment program focused attention on Iran's nuclear activities eight years ago, concerns have grown that it is interested in making weapons, in part through its refusal to give up enrichment and accept fuel from abroad, despite four sets of U.N. sanctions.
The IAEA report noted that Iran continued to enrich uranium in defiance of five U.N. Security Council resolution, and focused in greater detail on issues mentioned Monday by Amano — lack of progress on the IAEA probe of the purported arms program experiments, and Tehran's recent decision to strip two inspectors of their monitoring rights after they reported what they said were undeclared nuclear experiments.
While all member states select inspectors from an official IAEA list, some Western nations on the agency's 35-nation board argue that because Iran has banned more than 40 inspectors over the past four years, a case could be made that Tehran is violating the agency's so-called Safeguards Agreement.
The agreement is meant to ensure that the IAEA can monitor Iran's nuclear program without impediments to make sure it is solely for peaceful purposes.
In banning the two monitors, Tehran argued that they misreported what they saw — a view rejected Monday by Amano.
"I express my full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned," he said. "Iran's repeated objection to the designation of inspectors with experience in Iran's nuclear fuel cycle and facilities hampers the inspection process."
Amano urged Iran to withdraw its 2007 ban on 38 inspectors, announced in apparent retaliation for the imposition of U.N. Security Council sanctions because of the Islamic Republic's refusal to freeze enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel and the fissile warhead material.
Since then, Iran refuses to accept inspectors from the U.S., Britain and France — the Western nuclear weapons states whose experts posses the kind of knowledge on nuclear weapons research that IAEA officials say the agency cannot provide through training.
Beyond Iran, the board — and a subsequent assembly of the 151 IAEA member nations — will focus on allegations of a hidden Syrian nuclear program; something Syria denies. Israel — which is commonly considered to have nuclear arms — is also on the agenda, with Islamic nations pushing the Jewish state to open its atomic activities to IAEA perusal.