Iranian Security Guards at Nuclear Site Harassed Female UN Inspectors, Report Says

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The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, earlier this year.
The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, earlier this year. Credit: Leonhard Foeger / File Photo / Reuters

Security guards at an Iranian nuclear facility have physically harassed a number of female UN International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors in recent months, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, and the United States has demanded that the behavior stop immediately.

The incidents purportedly involved male security guards inappropriately touching female inspectors in "different places, sensitive places" and demanding that they remove items of clothing at the country’s main atomic facility at Natanz, according to diplomats, wrote the WSJ. The incidents are said to have begun in early June and are said to have occurred as recently as several weeks ago.

The United States has circulated a document ahead of a board meeting of IAEA member countries calling the harassment “absolutely unacceptable" and urging the other member states to take a clear stand on the matter, the Journal reported.

According to the Journal, one of the diplomats it spoke with said he had been told that in the most recent incident, the female inspector "was totally humiliated" during a search in which she was ordered to remove some of her clothing as part of an inspection. Another reportedly described the alleged incidents as "more serious than anything previously recorded," with the report referring to other alleged incidents that occurred before 2013. Those incidents, the report said, had preceded serious negotiations of a nuclear deal among Iran and major global powers.

In a related development, the New York Times reported on Tuesday that Iran is a month away from having enough highly enriched uranium for a single nuclear weapon. This may increase pressure on the United States to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran and world powers, the Times noted, a pact that the U.S. unilaterally pulled out of in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump.

According to the Times, new data from an International Atomic Energy Agency report last week shows that Tehran has acquired the capacity to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon, although assembling the nuclear warhead itself would take much longer.

On Sunday, Iran agreed to allow international inspectors install new memory cards into surveillance cameras at its sensitive nuclear sites and to continue filming there, potentially averting a diplomatic showdown this week. 

Last week, the UN atomic watchdog said that Iran's stockpiling of highly enriched uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons is in contravention of the 2015 accord with world powers that was meant to contain Tehran's nuclear program. The IAEA also chided Iran for its continued failure to answer questions including on uranium traces found at undeclared sites.

Tehran's strategy of deliberately violating the deal is seen as an attempt to put pressure particularly on Europe to provide it with incentives to offset crippling American sanctions re-imposed after the U.S. pullout.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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