The United States accused Iran on Wednesday of intimidating U.N. inspectors investigating its nuclear program in an effort to influence their findings — a move an American diplomat suggested allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to consider "appropriate action."
Glyn Davies, the chief U.S. delegate to the nuclear agency, did not go into details in comments to the agency's 35-nation board. But he referred to the phrase "appropriate action" as part of the authority given the board if the agency's inspectors are hampered in carrying out their duties by the nation under inspection.
If the country is found to have violated commitments on how and what the International Atomic Energy Agency is allowed to inspect, the board could then formally report the breach to the U.N. Security Council in a resolution — a move that would add to the international pressure on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear activities.
Iran is under four sets of Security Council sanctions for refusing to stop uranium enrichment and ignoring other demands meant to ease international concern that it seeks to make nuclear weapons.
Enrichment can make both nuclear fuel and the fissile warhead material. Iran, which kept its enrichment activities under wraps until they were revealed eight years ago, says it is enriching only to fuel a future network of nuclear reactors.
While initially offering partial cooperation with an International Atomic Energy Agency probe three years ago of intelligence reports that it had conducted secret experiments meant to help it develop nuclear arms, Iran subsequently fended off questions and inspections, saying all queries had been laid to rest.
The dispute over the inspectors arose from Iran's decision to bar two International Atomic Energy Agency experts several months ago after they reported that the country was experimenting with pyroprocessing, a procedure that can be used to purify uranium metal used in nuclear warheads.
Iran says the inspectors misreported what they saw and notes that every nation has the right to approve inspectors put forward by the agency.
But Davies told the board meeting that barring inspectors because "they report accurately ... is unprecedented."
Iran's ban is a "clear effort to intimate inspectors and thereby influence the conclusions" they make, he said.
A European Union statement to the board also expressed "serious concern" about the ban of the two inspectors, saying it "hampers the safeguards process in Iran."
Iran already had come under criticism over the issue inspectors' ban on Monday, when agency head Yukiya Amano warned the moved hampered his watchdog agency's attempts to monitor Iran's nuclear program.
Amano also urged Iran to withdraw its 2007 ban on 38 inspectors, announced in apparent retaliation for the imposition of U.N. 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 has refused to accept inspectors from the five U.N. Security Council nations — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China, all nuclear weapons states whose experts posses the kind of knowledge on nuclear weapons research that IAEA officials say the agency cannot provide through training. Germany, which also supported the sanctions, is also not allowed to send inspectors to Iran either.