Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 8 July 2020

Iran fires back at UN watchdog in argument over access to nuclear sites

The IAEA has concerns about locations that could have hosted Iran's nuclear weapons programme

Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Gharib Abadi, right, waits for the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Centre in Vienna, Austria, Monday, September 9, 2019. AP
Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Gharib Abadi, right, waits for the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Centre in Vienna, Austria, Monday, September 9, 2019. AP

Iran has responded to reports from the UN’s nuclear body over concerns Tehran is stonewalling on access to sites that may have been part of an old, secret nuclear weapons programme.

In a nine-page response Iran said it had received the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report with “deep regret and disappointment” and reiterated its list of grievances with the watchdog’s inspections regime.

Since last year, the IAEA has been grappling with Iran’s decision to renege on its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and has admonished the country over its failure to answer questions about past nuclear activities at three sites.

Iran has also denied inspectors access to two of the three sites linked to what US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe was a clandestine nuclear programme that was discontinued in 2003.

Information gleaned from an archive of Israeli-obtained intelligence on Iran’s past nuclear activity has given the UN watchdog further insight into the Islamic republic’s previous activities before 2015.

FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

Iran has, in particular, taken issue with the IAEA’s use of foreign intelligence to inform its findings. Its response outlines that it believes the information to be “fabricated”.

The report issued to member states detailed suspected activities and materials including “the possible presence … of natural uranium in the form of a metal disc” at a site that “underwent extensive sanitisation and levelling in 2003 and 2004,” a term that means it was scrubbed of nuclear material.

The report also described “the possible use and storage of nuclear material at another location specified by the agency where outdoor, conventional explosive testing may have taken place in 2003, including in relation to testing of shielding in preparation for the use of neutron detectors”.

While one of the three sites underwent “sanitising”, another “underwent significant changes … including the demolition of most buildings” and at the other the IAEA reported “activities consistent with efforts to sanitise part of the location” from July 2019 onwards.

Though the agency has sought to investigate Iran’s activities prior to 2015, the Islamic republic has, since July 2019, steadily broken the terms of the nuclear deal.

The US withdrawal from the agreement, whereby Tehran agreed to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for relief on economic sanctions, lies at the heart of escalating regional tensions.

This file photo from 2019 shows an Iranian flag at Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. AFP
This file photo from 2019 shows an Iranian flag at Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. AFP

The US quit the deal in 2018 saying Iran was failing to live up to the spirit of the agreement by carrying out ballistic missile tests and backing proxies in a number of regional conflicts.

The remaining signatories, China, France, Russia, the UK, and Germany, have attempted to salvage the deal but in the intervening months relations between the US and Iran have continued to deteriorate.

US President Donald Trump has sought to impose a campaign of "maximum pressure" against Iran after his predecessor, Barack Obama, pursued a policy of relative rapprochement.

Since withdrawing the US from a nuclear deal in May 2018, Washington has repeatedly hit Iran with sweeping sanctions.

The two sides appeared to retreat from the brink of direct conflict several times in the past two years with the tensions reaching their highest point in January of this year with the US killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani.

Updated: June 11, 2020 08:31 PM

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