Iran denies hiding any nuclear activities, undeclared sites

Iran says it switched off 2 of UN watchdog’s surveillance cameras at nuclear site

State media report doesn’t identify location of cameras, but they could be at Fordo or Natanz; move appears to be attempt by Tehran to apply pressure ahead of possible censure

An inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency sets up surveillance equipment, at the Uranium Conversion Facility of Iran, just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, Aug. 8, 2005  (AP Photo/Mehdi Ghasemi, ISNA, File )
An inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency sets up surveillance equipment, at the Uranium Conversion Facility of Iran, just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, Aug. 8, 2005 (AP Photo/Mehdi Ghasemi, ISNA, File )

Iran turned off two surveillance cameras of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog that monitored one of its atomic sites, Iranian state television reported Wednesday.

The television report described the two International Atomic Energy Agency cameras as monitoring “OLEM enrichment levels and flowmeters.”

That appeared to refer to the IAEA’s Online Enrichment Monitors, which watch the enrichment of uranium gas through piping at enrichment facilities.

The report did not identify the site, but Iran currently is enriching at both its Fordo and Natanz underground nuclear sites.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has so far had extensive cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency,” the TV report said. “Unfortunately, the agency, without considering this cooperation… not only did not appreciate this cooperation, but also considered it as a duty of Iran.”

Tehran said its civilian nuclear arm, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, monitored the shutdown of the cameras. It said 80 percent of the existing cameras are IAEA “safeguard” cameras and they will continue to operate as before.

The Vienna-based IAEA did not immediately acknowledge Iran’s move. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

The move appeared to be a new pressure technique by Tehran as Western nations seek to censure Iran at a meeting this week of the IAEA. The motion is largely symbolic and does not threaten any specific actions from world powers against Iran.

Iran and world powers agreed in 2015 to the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The deal started to fall apart in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from it. Negotiations between Iran and the West have stalled in recent months.

Iran has now broken every limit imposed by the deal and now enriches uranium up to 60% purity — a short, technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%. According to the latest IAEA report, the Islamic Republic now has 43.1 kilograms (95 pounds) of 60-percent-enriched uranium.

Both American and Israeli officials have assessed that Iran now needs only a few weeks to amass enough fissile material for a bomb, should it choose to make one, though it would need additional time to assemble the device’s other components.

Despite the continued violations by Tehran, the IAEA had been allowed to continue visiting some sites, although it has been denied access on some occasions and last year it was reported Iranian guards at the Natanz nuclear facility sexually harassed inspectors from the UN watchdog multiple times.

In addition to the problems over site access, Iran has been withholding footage from IAEA surveillance cameras since February 2021 as a pressure tactic.

However, Iran insisted Wednesday it had declared all sites that hosted past nuclear activities.

“Iran has no hidden or undocumented nuclear activities or undisclosed sites,” the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, told the official IRNA news agency.

“This recent move by three European countries and the US by presenting a draft resolution against Iran is a political one,” Eslami said, adding that “Iran has had maximum cooperation with the IAEA.”

Mohammad Eslami, new head of Iran’s nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy’s (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

During a meeting of the IAEA, the United States called the cameras’ removal “regrettable and counterproductive.”

“If accurate, reports that Iran plans to reduce transparency in response to this resolution are extremely regrettable and counterproductive to the diplomatic outcome we seek,” a US statement to a meeting of the 35-nation Board of Governors said ahead of a vote on the US-backed draft resolution criticizing Iran. “We do not seek escalation [with Iran].”

Eslami’s statement came after IAEA head Rafael Grossi said Monday that Iran has still not provided satisfactory answers over the presence of uranium at three undeclared facilities.

He also said that it would be “a matter of just a few weeks” before Iran could get sufficient material needed for a nuclear weapon if it continued to develop its program. Iran has always publicly denied wanting to develop a nuclear weapon.

Last week, Grossi touched down in Tel Aviv for a snap visit for a meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Bennett warned Grossi that Iran was pushing ahead on developing a nuclear weapon while misleading the world with “false information and lies” to conceal its work. The IAEA chief tweeted after their meeting that he and Bennett had “important exchanges on topical issues.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on June 3, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Days before the Grossi meeting, Bennett published documents he said were taken from Iran and showed that Iranian intelligence spied on the UN’s atomic agency in order to better cover up its rogue nuclear activities.

Revelations about the Iranian spying on the IAEA were published last month by the Wall Street Journal, based on documents from the archive Israel took from Tehran. The Journal said it received access to the documents “from a Middle East intelligence agency that hails from a country that opposes Iran’s nuclear program.” Previously only US intelligence had been provided the entire archive material, with partial access also granted to independent experts.

“Iran lied to the world, Iran is lying to the world again right now, and the world must make sure that Iran doesn’t get away scot-free,” Bennett warned.

Israel was a staunch opponent of the nuclear deal and welcomed the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement, which caused it to collapse. However, a number of current and former security officials have begun saying that the withdrawal was a mistake, as it has led to Iran accelerating its nuclear enrichment efforts.

Israel has said repeatedly that it will not allow Tehran to possess nuclear weapons. Neither the US nor Israel has ruled out the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

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