Iran is refusing to cooperate with a UN investigation into its alleged storage of nuclear equipment and radioactive material in Tehran by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Diplomats claim that Iran has refused to answer important questions asked by the IAEA over allegations that it had established a now-dismantled site in Tehran to store nuclear equipment and material used during past weapons development.
These allegations were first publicly raised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September 2018 at the UN, when he disclosed the existence of a facility in Iran’s capital that he referred to as an “atomic warehouse” full of material related to the country’s nuclear program.
“The IAEA still has not taken any action. It has not posed a single question of Iran. It has not demanded to inspect a single new site discovered in that secret archive,” the prime minister said. “So I decided to reveal today something else that we revealed to the IAEA and to other intelligence agencies.“They had to get it out of the site, so they took it out and they spread it around Tehran in an effort to hide the evidence,” he asserted, suggesting that Iranian citizens were at risk of exposure.
According to The Wall Street Journal, this is the first time that the Islamic Republic has refused to cooperate with IAEA monitoring since the nuclear deal went into effect in January 2016. Until recently, the UN nuclear agency had repeatedly stated that Iran was meeting all its commitments and cooperating with inspections.
Quarterly IAEA reports say its inspectors have had access to all the places in Iran they have needed to visit, which IAEA chief Yukiya Amano repeated in a speech in April.
The agency had told UN member states that it would criticize Iran for its behavior, but in a report released on Friday, the agency only made passing reference to the problem, according to the diplomats.
The UN nuclear agency's actions concerning Iran "continue a pattern of the agency’s unwillingness to hold Tehran accountable for the violations of its nuclear safeguard obligations," according to Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank which has expressed opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.
The diplomats did clarify that the radioactive material in Tehran is almost definitely not useful to the Islamic Republic for amassing fuel for a nuclear weapon, according to the Journal. The material is likely left over from work conducted by Iran years ago. Western officials claim that this work was conducted with the aim of developing a nuclear weapon, while Iran claims that the nuclear program has always been for peaceful purposes.
An IAEA spokesman stated that details about the agency's work are confidential. "A rigorous technical and legal process is followed and any suggestion of internal differences... is strongly denied," said an IAEA spokesman.
In April, agency inspectors found traces of radioactive material at the Turquz Abad site that Netanyahu claimed had contained 300 tons of nuclear-related equipment.
Olli Heinonen, former deputy director-general for safeguards at the IAEA, told The Jerusalem Post in June that Iran may have at least five clandestine underground nuclear facilities that the agency does not know about.
In July, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, stated that Iran had enriched 24 tons of uranium since signing the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal, according to Radio Farda. It was unclear exactly what he meant or what happened to the enriched uranium. The agreement required Tehran to limit its stock of enriched uranium to 300 kg.
Political affairs analyst Reza Taghizadeh said that 23 of the 24 tons of enriched uranium have been exported from the country and that only 300-350 kg were kept in Iran.
The JCPOA nuclear agreement guaranteed Iran access to world trade in return for accepting curbs on its nuclear program. Tehran says the deal allows it to respond to the US breach by reducing its compliance, and it will do so every 60 days.
Iran's government spokesman said on Monday that Iran and France's views on the nuclear deal have moved closer, mainly after phone calls between President Hassan Rouhani and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday that his country would further reduce its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal if European parties failed to shield Tehran's economy from sanctions reimposed by the United States after Washington quit the accord last year.
Tehran has threatened to take further steps by September 6, such as enriching uranium to 20% or restarting mothballed centrifuges: machines that purify uranium for use as fuel in power plants or, if very highly enriched, in weapons.
Tovah Lazaroff, Reuters, Yonah Jeremy Bob and Michael Wilner contributed to this report.