VIENNA, (Reuters) – Iran has demanded the removal of the U.N. official overseeing nuclear inspections in the country, accusing him of breach of trust, and barred all inspectors from nations behind sanctions, diplomats said on Friday.
Tehran’s moves, following a ban on 38 inspectors from four major Western nations announced on Monday, appeared aimed at testing Western resolve over its disputed nuclear activity while stopping short of violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The United Nations slapped preliminary sanctions on Iran last month for refusing to stop enriching uranium, the pathway to fuel for atomic energy or bombs, and impeding International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) probes into the nature of its programme.
Western powers suspect Iran is secretly trying to assemble warheads behind the facade of a civilian nuclear power project. Tehran, the world’s No. 4 exporter of oil, insists it is seeking only peaceful nuclear generation of electricity.
A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said on Friday Iran had written to the Vienna-based agency asking for the ouster of its Iran section head, Chris Charlier, who is Belgian. Last year, Iran banned Charlier from travelling to the Islamic Republic. “The note from Iran was not that strong,” the diplomat said, without elaborating. There was no immediate IAEA comment.
Iran’s official news agency IRNA quoted an unnamed Iranian diplomat as saying it had asked the IAEA to “delete a Belgian inspector from the list” of those allowed to work in Iran. “Both Iran and the (IAEA) are informed that this inspector has passed confidential Iranian nuclear information, which was supposed to be kept between Iran and the IAEA, to inappropriate countries and their media,” the diplomat said. “Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA will continue in the framework of the NPT …, which means inspections and supervisions will continue,” IRNA quoted the diplomat as saying.
But he also said there would be no place for inspectors from countries behind measures against “Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities.” He appeared to be referring to Britain, France and Germany, which drafted the U.N. sanctions.
It was not immediately known how many of the 200 inspectors assigned exclusively or part-time to Iran were from the three EU powers, or whether the barred 38 comprised all of them. That ban included Canadians, whose government stoutly backed sanctions.
The diplomat quoted by IRNA did not say what Iran would do if Charlier remained in his post. Diplomats close to the IAEA said earlier this month Charlier could still run inspection operations in Iran without being on location. “The Iranians have not made threats here, they’re just being persistent,” said another diplomat familiar with IAEA-Iranian relations, when asked about Iran’s new thrust against Charlier.
The IAEA said on Monday the prohibition of the 38 would not undermine monitoring as it had ample other inspectors, but on Wednesday it wrote to Iran to urge it to reconsider the ban.
Iran has brushed off the U.N. Security Council’s decision to prohibit transfers of sensitive materials and know-how to Iran’s nuclear and missile programmes. It vows soon to escalate a now experimental enrichment programme to “industrial-scale”.
Diplomats said the IAEA, in pushing Iran to reverse the ban on 38 inspectors, did not want to see a precedent set for restricting inspections that could harden U.S. sentiment for an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites.