Iran has barred around a third of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s most experienced inspectors from overseeing nuclear sites in the country, the UN watchdog group said Saturday. The IAEA’s chief slammed the move as unprecedented and said it would complicate inspection of Iran’s nuclear program.
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the IAEA, said in a statement that he was informed by Iran of the move earlier Saturday. The lack of cooperation will damage the organization’s ability to “provide credible assurances that nuclear material and activities in Iran are for peaceful purposes,” said Grossi, urging Iran to reconsider the move.
“I strongly condemn this disproportionate and unprecedented unilateral measure which affects the normal planning and conduct of agency verification activities in Iran and openly contradicts the cooperation that should exist between the agency and Iran,” Grossi stated.
“This profoundly regrettable decision by Iran is another step in the wrong direction and constitutes an unnecessary blow to an already strained relationship between the IAEA and Iran in the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement,” he added.
Grossi said the inspectors in question “have conducted essential verification work at the enrichment facilities in Iran which are under Agency safeguards.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also denounced the Iranian step, issuing a statement a day before he travels to the United States late Sunday for a visit that will include an address to the UN General Assembly. The premier has previously used his speeches to the annual forum to warn against advances in Iran’s nuclear program.
“Israel is not surprised by Iran’s moves, which prove it is violating all its commitments to the international community and intends to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in the statement, which was issued on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year), an atypical step that underlined the gravity with which Netanyahu evidently regards the Iranian move.
“The prime minister reiterates that Israel will do everything needed to defend itself against this threat,” the statement added.
Responding to the IAEA, Iran’s foreign ministry linked the move to what it said was an attempt by the United States and three European countries to misuse the body “for their own political purposes.” The ministry appeared to be referring to Britain, France and Germany, which said Thursday they would maintain sanctions on Iran related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
“Iran had previously warned about the consequences of such political abuses, including the attempt to politicize the atmosphere of the agency,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.
Last week, the UN nuclear watchdog said in confidential reports seen by AFP that Iran had made “no progress” on several outstanding nuclear issues, including installing more cameras to monitor their nuclear program.
Tehran in March vowed to reactivate surveillance devices that were disconnected in June 2022 amid deteriorating relations with the West.
In a separate report, also seen by AFP, the IAEA said Iran’s total stockpile of enriched uranium was lower than in May but still more than 18 times the limit set in a 2015 accord between Tehran and world powers.
Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was estimated at 3,795.5 kilograms (8,367.7 pounds) as of August 19, down by 949 kilograms from May, the agency said.
The limit in the 2015 deal was set at 202.8 kilograms.
The stockpile of uranium enriched up to 60 percent is now at 121.6 kilos, up from 114.1 kilos in May.
Iran also has 535.8 kilos of uranium enriched up to 20 percent, up from 470.9 kilos in the last May report.
Britain, the United States, France and Germany on Wednesday told the IAEA that Iran must clarify questions over its nuclear program, including concerns over the monitoring cameras, and the presence of uranium particles enriched to near weapons-grade level.
On Monday, Grossi expressed concern that the international community was losing interest in holding Iran to account over its advancing nuclear program, without naming the countries.
The comments follow an easing of tensions between Tehran and Washington, which announced a prisoner swap last month.
“We are aware that there is a bilateral process of sorts. We have been informed by the United States about this. But when it comes to the nuclear part, [it is] not clear what is being discussed,” Grossi stressed at the time.
In 2015, major world powers reached a deal with Iran, under which Tehran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions.
That started to unravel in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the pact and reimposed sanctions. Tehran in turn stepped up its nuclear program.
Efforts to revive the deal have been fruitless so far.
Iran has always denied any ambition to develop a nuclear weapons capability, insisting its activities are entirely peaceful.