Nuke watchdog to meet as row brews over Iran blocking inspections
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Nuke watchdog to meet as row brews over Iran blocking inspections

IAEA says it is unhappy with Tehran refusing to open up two sites where nuclear activity may have taken place; Tehran says request based on flawed Israeli intelligence

The board of governors meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, March 9, 2020. (AP/Ronald Zak)
The board of governors meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, March 9, 2020. (AP/Ronald Zak)

The UN nuclear watchdog’s governing body will meet on Monday as a row brews over Iran’s refusal to allow access to two sites where nuclear activity may have occurred in the past.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed “serious concern” in a report earlier this month that Iran has been blocking inspections at the sites.

The Board of Governors, one of the agency’s policy-making bodies, is expected to discuss the report during its meeting. If its members pass a resolution critical of Iran, it would be the first of its kind since 2012.

Even though the two sites are not thought to be key to Iran’s current activities, the agency says it needs to know if past activities going back almost two decades have been properly declared and all materials accounted for.

The report detailed efforts made by the agency’s officials to get access to the locations.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, spokesman of the organization Behrouz Kamalvandi, center, briefs the media while visiting Fordo nuclear site near Qom, south of Tehran, Iran, November 9, 2019 (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran told the agency the report was a source of “deep regret and disappointment” and hinted the queries were based on “fabricated information” from “intelligence services.”

Israel has previously claimed its intelligence services unearthed information on an alleged previous nuclear weapons program in Iran. Diplomats told the Reuters news agency that the IAEA’s request to take environmental samples at the sites is at least partially based on Israeli intelligence after the Mossad clandestine service stole documents from a warehouse described by Israel as a nuclear archive.

Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018, in New York City, and holds up a picture of what he said was a secret Iranian nuclear warehouse. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

An inspection last year at a “carpet-cleaning facility” that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flagged as a likely former nuclear site turned up trace amounts of fissile material.

“Copies of papers presented to Iran by the agency as the basis for its requests are neither authentic nor related to the open-source, but rather claimed by the Israeli regime to have been acquired through a so-called secret operation,” Iran’s diplomatic mission to the IAEA in Vienna said in March, in a statement carried by Reuters.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that merely forwarding some papers based on the intelligence services’ fabricated information is not consistent with the agency’s Statute, Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, and the Additional Protocol,” it said.

Western states have voiced concern over Iran’s denial of access to the sites, with the United States and Israel being particularly vocal.

The latest row over access comes as a landmark deal between Iran and world powers in 2015 continues to unravel.

Under the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran committed to curtailing its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief and other benefits.

But the country has slowly abandoned its commitments in retaliation for US President Donald Trump’s decision two years ago to renounce the deal and reimpose swingeing sanctions.

Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is now almost eight times the limit fixed in the accord, according to an IAEA assessment published earlier this month.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, technicians work at the Arak heavy water reactor’s secondary circuit, as officials and media visit the site, near Arak, Iran, December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

However, the level of enrichment is still far below what would be needed for a nuclear weapon.

The IAEA says it continues to have access to all the facilities needed to monitor Iran’s current nuclear activity.

The latest tension will further complicate efforts by the deal’s EU signatories — the so-called E3 of France, Germany and Britain — to keep the deal from collapsing.

Trump has called for the E3 to follow his lead and leave the deal.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran on November 6, 2019, a forklift carries a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges in Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Last month, the US said it was ending sanctions waivers for nations that remain in the Iran nuclear accord — a move likely to have most impact on Russian firms working on Iran’s nuclear program.

The American move brought condemnation from the E3 and was branded “unlawful” by Tehran.

Iran is also concerned that the US is pushing for an extension to an international arms embargo against Tehran which is set to be progressively eased from October.

Last week Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged other UN Security Council members, especially veto-wielding China and Russia, to stand against the American “conspiracy.”

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