TEHRAN — Iran said Thursday it had canceled the accreditation of a UN nuclear inspector after she triggered an alarm last week at the entrance to the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.
The check at the entrance gate to the plant in central Iran had “triggered an alarm” raising concern that she could be carrying a “suspect product” on her, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization said in a statement posted online.
As a result, she was denied entry and briefly detained, it added, without specifying whether or not anything had been found in her possession.
The Iranian organization said it had reported the incident to International Atomic Energy Agency and notified it that its inspector’s accreditation had been withdrawn.
She had since left Iran for Vienna, where the IAEA is based, it said, without saying when.
“Iran’s representative to the IAEA will present a full report on the matter” in Vienna later Thursday, it added.
This marks the first known time of Iran blocking an inspector amid the tensions.
According to a source close to the IAEA, the 35 members of its council of governors will hold a special meeting dedicated to Iran.
The detainment of the inspector was first reported on Wednesday and was expected to be one of the matters under discussion at the meeting.
Under a landmark 2015 deal between Iran and major powers, its nuclear facilities are subject to continuous monitoring by the IAEA.
Iran injected uranium gas into centrifuges at its underground Fordo nuclear complex early Thursday, taking its most significant step away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The gas injection began after midnight at Fordo, a facility built under a mountain north of the Shiite holy city of Qom, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said. A UN official from the IAEA witnessed the injection, it said. The centrifuges ultimately will begin enriching uranium up to 4.5%, which is just beyond the limits of the nuclear deal, but nowhere near weapons-grade levels of 90%.
Fordo’s 1,044 centrifuges previously spun without uranium gas for enrichment under the deal, which saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The deal had called for Fordo to become “a nuclear, physics and technology center.”
Iran acknowledged Fordo’s existence in 2009 amid a major pressure campaign by Western powers over Tehran’s nuclear program. The West feared Iran could use its program to build a nuclear weapon; Iran insists the program is for peaceful purposes.
Iranian officials repeatedly have stressed the steps taken so far, including going beyond the deal’s enrichment and stockpile limitations, could be reversed if Europe offers a way for it to avoid US sanctions choking off its crude oil sales abroad. However, a European trade mechanism has yet to take hold and a French-proposed $15 billion line of credit has not emerged.
The collapse of the nuclear deal coincided with a tense summer of mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities that the US blamed on Iran. Tehran denied the allegation, though it did seize oil tankers and shoot down a US military surveillance drone.