The United Nations atomic watchdog chief said on Monday he regretted Iran's decision in June to bar two experienced nuclear inspectors from the country, saying repeated rejections of International Atomic Energy Agency staff were hindering their work.
"I learned with great regret about Iran's decision to object to the designation of two inspectors who recently conducted inspections in Iran," said Yukiya Amano, Director-General of the IAEA.
Iran has accused the two inspectors of giving "false information" about its nuclear program. But Amano told a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation governing board on Monday that he had full confidence in their "professionalism and impartiality."
The dispute over the inspectors has added to international concern about Iran's nuclear program, which Western powers suspect is aimed at developing atom bombs. Iran denies this allegation, insisting the program is aimed solely at generating electricity.
Apart from the two inspectors barred in June, Iran also refused access to a senior inspector in 2006 and has objected to a number of other appointments in the past.
"... Iran's repeated objection to the designation of inspectors with experience in Iran's nuclear fuel cycle and facilities hampers the inspection process," Amano said, according to a copy of his speech provided to reporters outside the closed-door meeting.
He urged Iran to reconsider a decision in January 2007 to reject 38 agency inspectors.
Amano said further that Iran's selective cooperation with his inspectors means that he cannot confirm that all of Tehran's atomic activities are peaceful.
Amano's blunt comments drew a strong response from Iran, which accused him of distorting facts in a report prepared for the gathering.
"We request the director general to immediately reconsider this sort of reporting ... so that it will not create political tensions," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA.
The IAEA report noted that Iran continued to enrich uranium in defiance of five UN Security Council resolutions, and focused in greater detail on issues mentioned Monday by Amano - lack of progress on the IAEA probe of the purported arms program experiments, and Tehran's recent decision to strip two inspectors of their monitoring rights after they reported what they said were undeclared nuclear experiments.
While all member states select inspectors from an official IAEA list, some Western nations on the agency's 35-nation board argue that because Iran has banned more than 40 inspectors over the past four years, a case could be made that Tehran is violating the agency's so-called Safeguards Agreement.
The agreement is meant to ensure that the IAEA can monitor Iran's nuclear program without impediments to make sure it is solely for peaceful purposes.
Beyond Iran, the board - and a subsequent assembly of the 151 IAEA member nations - will focus on allegations of a hidden Syrian nuclear program; something Syria denies. Israel - which is commonly considered to have nuclear arms - is also on the agenda, with Islamic nations pushing Israel to open its atomic activities to IAEA perusal.
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