Iran’s nuclear chief questions IAEA impartiality as censure looms

Iranian official tells Al Jazeera the world’s atomic watchdog and its director are acting under political pressure.

A man standing at a lectern that says IAEA
Mohammad Eslami told Al Jazeera that the IAEA had been 'infiltrated' by Iran's enemies [File: Lisa Leutner/AP Photo]

Tehran, Iran – Iran’s nuclear chief and other senior officials have questioned whether the global atomic watchdog is politically compromised, as Western powers, backed by Israel, introduce a resolution to censure Iran over its nuclear programme.

Mohammad Eslami, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said in an interview with Al Jazeera on Monday that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needs to put a stop to “infiltration by Iran’s enemies” in its operations.

“How is it possible that confidential reports of an international organisation are published in the media even before the official recipients read them?” he said in reference to IAEA reports detailing Iran’s nuclear programme that are regularly leaked to Western media.

Those reports have said that the agency is not satisfied with answers Iran has provided to the agency’s probes of three sites in Turquzabad, Varamin and Marivan where nuclear particles dating back several decades have been found.

But Eslami said Iran has provided “accurate” answers, and that the IAEA has so far lacked the “will” required to declare Iran’s answers convincing.

Eslami said the probes were based on “fake documents and accounts” provided by Iran’s enemies, led by Israel, and that Iran had offered its voluntary cooperation.

The nuclear chief added that the agency’s focus on Iran was discriminatory, as Iran accounted for only a small amount of global nuclear activity, but had to undergo what he said was over a quarter of all agency monitoring activity, which amounts to hundreds of inspections per year.

Western powers claim that the inspections are necessary to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, something Iran categorically denies.

Eslami criticised a trip last week by the IAEA’s director general Rafael Grossi to Israel.

“How many inspections is the agency doing in that country? Is it even allowed to have an inspection?”

Al Jazeera has reached out to the IAEA for comment.

Eslami also responded to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who had said that Israel reserved the right for “self-defence” should the IAEA’s diplomacy with Iran fail.

“This is the culture that’s dominant now and these interferences have show a clear movement against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

IAEA resolution

Meanwhile, the United States and the E3 – France, Germany and the United Kingdom – have submitted a resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear advances and “insufficient cooperation” with the agency at the Board of Governors meetings that began on Monday.

A vote on the resolution will likely be taken on Wednesday.

The Western allies had so far refrained from carrying out the move as they perceived that it could hurt the stalled Vienna nuclear talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.

The resolution is still thought to exclude a recommendation to take Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council as it is believed that it would further escalate an already tense situation.

Iran’s foreign ministry has said the country would respond based on what happens at the board meeting, without elaborating what that response could entail.

Russia, which along with China was also part of the nuclear deal, has already expressed its opposition to a resolution.

For its part, Israel wants the resolution to be stronger, with Bennett on Tuesday saying that he expects the board to “issue a clear warning sign” to Iran over its nuclear programme.

In a move encouraged by Israel, the US unilaterally abandoned the landmark nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2018 and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran. In response, Iran has gradually boosted its nuclear programme, now enriching uranium to 60 percent.

IAEA’s reports on Iran

The move to censure Iran at the IAEA is believed to be based on information within two quarterly IAEA reports on Iran’s nuclear programme that were circulated among board members last week.

One report said that Iran has produced 43kg (95 pounds) of 60 percent enriched uranium. Theoretically, if Iran decides to enrich that amount to the weaponised grade of 90 percent, it could have enough material for one nuclear bomb.

The second report said that Iran has not thoroughly satisfied the IAEA’s questions about three previously undeclared nuclear sites.

Iran has called both reports “not fair and balanced”.

Grossi told the IAEA board on Monday during his introductory remarks that Iran had failed to provide technically credible explanations concerning the agency’s findings of undeclared nuclear material at the three sites.

Israeli satellite imagery

Meanwhile, Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesman of the Iranian atomic energy organisation, claimed that Israeli satellite imagery of Iran’s nuclear sites was fake.

In a statement published by state-run IRNA, Kamalvandi claimed that the imagery did not correspond to the geography of the positions they were depicting.

“Instead of seeing this as reason to doubt reports by Israeli agents, he [Grossi] doubts the reasoning of possible human sabotage put forward by the Iranian side,” Kamalvandi wrote.

Last week, the Israeli prime minister’s office launched a public campaign focused on the claim that Iran had stolen IAEA documents and then sought to deceive the agency by coming up with cover stories to evade nuclear probes.

Bennett shared a short video on social media in which he showed the documents that purportedly proved this claim, and then released the documents online.

Source: Al Jazeera