The United Nations nuclear watchdog inspected the second of two suspected former secret atomic sites in Iran as agreed with Tehran last month in a deal that ended a standoff over access, the agency said on Wednesday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not named either of the two undeclared sites, but it has described activities it suspects took place there in 2003, the year it and US intelligence services believe Iran halted a secret and coordinated nuclear weapons programme.
Although the IAEA said it has the power to carry out snap inspections anywhere in Iran it deems necessary, Tehran denied it access to the two sites for seven months until the deal was struck.
“As part of an agreement with Iran to resolve safeguards implementation issues specified by the IAEA, the agency this week conducted a complementary access at the second location in the country and took environmental samples,” it said in a statement.
Those samples and others taken at the first site will be sent to labs and analysed for traces of nuclear material since the agency’s main task is to account for all nuclear material in a country to ensure it is not being used to make weapons.
Iran denies ever having had a nuclear weapons programme.
‘Difference of opinion’
The spokesman of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, confirmed the news of the inspection, saying he hopes it will stop the United States from taking advantage of the issue.
“We had a difference of opinion with the agency [IAEA] and this difference was leading to an impasse due to political pressures. A country like the US could take advantage of the continuation of these conditions,” he said.
“Therefore, after reviewing the situation, we voluntarily announced to the agency that within a framework we will give you access to inspect these two sites once and for all.”
The Kamalvandi said he hopes the move will prevent the US and other countries that wish to politicise Iran’s case and “drag it to the UN Security Council” from further pressuring the IAEA.
It could take several months for the results of the sample analysis to be available. By then, the US presidential election will have been held, which should determine whether Donald Trump remains in office and continues to seek to dismantle Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited Iran in August on a trip that led to Iran granting access to the sites.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In an interview with Der Spiegel published on Wednesday, Grossi said IAEA personnel carried out more than 400 inspections in Iran last year.
Asked if he thought Iran’s leaders would like to obtain a nuclear bomb, Grossi replied: “I am monitoring exactly what is happening, but as an inspector, I should not speculate about intentions. At the IAEA we must be extremely thorough, unyielding and also fair. And we must always consider every possibility.”