IAEA: Violating deal, Iran denies access to site it says was sabotaged by Israel

UN agency says inspectors turned away when they tried to replace surveillance equipment at Karaj centrifuge assembly facility

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)
The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

Iran denied access to UN inspectors who were seeking to visit the Karaj centrifuge assembly site on Sunday, several months after a sabotage incident at the facility, which Tehran blamed on Israel.

Citing several unnamed sources, The Wall Street Journal reported that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors were seeking to replace and fix up cameras at the site as part of a deal struck earlier this month.

The IAEA confirmed later Sunday that its inspectors were turned away from the site, with a statement from the agency’s head, Rafael Grossi, saying the move violated the September 12 agreement to allow inspectors to service the surveillance equipment.

“The Director General reiterates that all of the agency’s activities referred to in the joint statement for all identified agency equipment and Iranian facilities and locations are indispensable in order to maintain continuity of knowledge,” the UAEA said in a statement said.

Grossi in his latest report on Iran informed member states that the Islamic republic had granted all other access from September 20 to 22.

Agency inspectors had been allowed to service monitoring and surveillance equipment and to replace storage media at “all necessary locations” except the Karaj workshop, the statement said.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi addresses the media after his arrival at the Vienna International Airport, in Schwechat near Vienna, Austria, on September 12, 2021. (ALEX HALADA / AFP)

The IAEA board is set to convene Monday for a previously scheduled meeting.

In June, Iran accused Israel of mounting a sabotage attack on the Karaj site, which makes components for machines used to enrich uranium. Without disclosing details, Iranian authorities acknowledged that the alleged strike had damaged the building.

Earlier this month, a confidential IAEA report revealed that the nuclear watchdog found that one surveillance camera was destroyed and a second was severely damaged, after their removal from the centrifuge manufacturing site in Karaj.

Days later, Iran admitted that it had removed several IAEA cameras from the site.

According to a report earlier this month, Iranian guards sexually harassed inspectors from the IAEA at the country’s Natanz nuclear facility multiple times in recent months. The incidents included inappropriate touching of female inspectors by male security guards as well as orders from the latter to remove some clothing, the report said, citing unnamed diplomats.

Illustrative: IAEA inspectors at Iran’s nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane/File)

IAEA inspections are a key part of the 2015 nuclear deal struck between Iran and world powers.

The pact, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), granted Iran relief from sanctions in return for dismantling parts of its nuclear program to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

After former United States president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018 and reapplied crippling sanctions, Iran also dropped some of its own commitments, notably upping its uranium enrichment to levels said to put it within a few months’ grasp of enough material for a weapon.

Iran’s hardline parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by February.

The Biden administration has said that it is willing to return to the JCPOA, if Iran first rolls back its recent moves and recommits. But the Vienna talks have been on hold since June, when ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi was elected as Iran’s president.

AFP contributed to this report.

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