Iran is pushing ahead with its nuclear program in defiance of tougher sanctions, the UN atomic watchdog said in a new report that Washington called “troubling,” but Tehran dismissed as “not balanced.”
The confidential report, obtained by reporters on Monday, says the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains concerned about possible work in Iran to develop a nuclear-armed missile.
The IAEA also warned that Iranian refusal to accept some of the agency’s choices of nuclear inspectors was hampering its activities in the Islamic republic, which rejects Western accusations it is seeking to build nuclear bombs.
“This is a pretty critical report and it seems the sides have reached an impasse,” said David Albright, head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.
The US said it showed that Tehran was still trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability.
“The IAEA’s reports of obstruction and Iran’s failure to cooperate are troubling to all who care about non-proliferation and global security,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, said the report by new agency chief Yukiya Amano “has damaged the agency’s technical reputation” and was “not balanced” compared to those of his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei.
He said all of Iran’s nuclear activities were under the IAEA’s “complete supervision,” Mehr News Agency reported.
The eight-year international dispute over Iran’s atomic activities has the potential to set off a regional arms race and spark a conflict in the Middle East.
The West hopes the imposition since June of additional UN, US and European sanctions on the country will persuade the Iranian leadership to back down and halt sensitive atomic work. Iran has repeatedly rejected such demands and is sending mixed signals about its readiness to negotiate with the West, offering unconditional talks on a plan to swap nuclear fuel, but setting terms for any broader discussions.
The IAEA report voiced concern about what it called Iran’s “repeated” objections to its appointments of inspectors, saying this “hampers the inspection process” and effectiveness of its work in the Islamic state.
Tehran barred two UN nuclear inspectors from entering in June, accusing them of reporting wrongly that some equipment was missing. There have been similar cases in the past.
A diplomat familiar with the IAEA’s Iran investigation said this increased “pressure” on the inspectors.
Albright said: “It shows the erosion of the IAEA’s ability to do its job.”
The IAEA for years has been investigating Western intelligence reports indicating Iran has coordinated efforts to process uranium, to stage missile tests and to revamp a ballistic missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead.
Tehran says the intelligence is forged, but its record of secrecy has stoked suspicions, heightened by the launch in February of higher-grade uranium enrichment of 20 percent fissile purity, bringing it closer to weapons-grade material.
The IAEA said Iran had produced about 2.8 tonnes of low-enriched uranium (LEU), up from 2.4 tonnes in May, as well as 22kg of the higher-grade material.