The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief pressed Iran on Monday to grant his inspectors access “without further delay” to a military site where they believe Tehran may have conducted explosives tests relevant to the development of nuclear weapons, as western countries will seek to turn the screw further on Iran.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said “activities” which had taken place at the Parchin facility -- a reference to suspected clean-up work there -- would have an “adverse impact” on the IAEA’s investigation, if and when it was allowed to go there.
Amano was addressing the 35-nation governing board of the Vienna-based IAEA, Reuters reported.
He said that the lack of progress in getting Iran to address allegations of nuclear weapons research was “frustrating.”
“Despite the intensified dialogue between the Agency and Iran since January 2012, no concrete results have been achieved so far,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said at the start of an IAEA board meeting.
“This is frustrating because, without Iran’'s full engagement, we will not be able to start the process to resolve all outstanding issues, including those involving possible military dimensions to its nuclear program,” he said according to AFP.
“We consider it essential for Iran to engage with us without further delay on the substance of our concerns,” Amano said, according to the text of his speech released by the Vienna-based IAEA.
The IAEA has held several rounds of fruitless talks with Iran in recent months to press for access to sites and scientists involved in what it suspects has been a nuclear weapons research program prior to 2003 and possibly since.
Iran denies conducting any such research and says that the documentation backing up the IAEA’s accusations, set out in a major report last November, are forgeries. Amano even visited Tehran earlier this year.
Amano also said that activities at the Parchin military base, where Iran is accused of having carried out weapons research and of removing evidence since, “will have an adverse impact on our ability to undertake effective verification there.”
He added: “In a letter dated 29 August 2012, Iran stated that the allegation of nuclear activities at the Parchin site was ‘baseless’.”
“However, the activities observed further strengthen our assessment that it is necessary to have access to the location at Parchin without further delay in order to obtain the required clarifications.”
Western countries will seek to turn the screw further on Iran during the meetings.
With EU foreign ministers talking Saturday in Cyprus about more sanctions, Britain, France and Germany were leading the charge for a clear signal from the International Atomic Energy Agency gathering, diplomats said.
“Iran has done anything but comply with its obligations,” one senior Western official based in Vienna said, according to AFP. “The board needs to speak very clearly and in a unified way.”
However, Russia and China, seen as softer on Iran, were resisting a tough-talking resolution that might include a referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
An IAEA report on Aug. 30 added to suspicions -- not only in the West and Israel but elsewhere -- that Iran is not telling the truth when it says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
The agency said Iran had doubled since May its uranium enrichment centrifuges at its underground Fordo facility, and that a suspected clean-up at the Parchin military base would “significantly hamper” inspectors.
Enriched uranium can be used for nuclear power but also in a nuclear bomb. Because the IAEA cannot vouch that all Iran’s activities are peaceful, multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions have called on Tehran to suspend enrichment.
The Security Council has also imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran, while additional U.S. and EU restrictions have also hit Tehran, leading to a halving of Iranian oil exports this year, the International Energy Agency says.
On Friday Canada broke off diplomatic relations with Iran.
The IAEA also wants Tehran to address evidence suggesting that Iran carried out nuclear weapons research at least until 2003 and possibly since, including at Parchin near Tehran in a “large explosives containment vessel.”
Commercially available satellite imagery shown to IAEA member states at a briefing on Wednesday by chief inspector Herman Nackaerts showed what the agency’s report called “extensive activities and resultant changes.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Moscow’s representative in currently stalled talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany (the P5+1), last Thursday criticized Tehran.
He said that Iran’s “right” to nuclear energy came with “obligations” and that “in our opinion, the Iranian side should cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in a more active and intensive manner,” Interfax reported.
But he also made a point of stressing that with IAEA inspectors constantly monitoring Iran’s activities, the agency’s report had made clear that there were “no signs of the Iranian nuclear program having a military component.”
Another Western diplomat in Vienna told AFP that he hoped that by passing “some sort of consensus response,” the board might also help to persuade Israel that diplomacy, not military action, was worth pursuing.
“One would hope this would send a message to the outside world, including countries with more bellicose intentions towards Iran, that the IAEA board remains united in trying to keep up diplomatic pressure,” the envoy said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Sunday that a nuclear-armed Iran was “not an option” as he called on Tehran to hold “substantial negotiations” over its controversial atomic program.
“We share the Israeli concerns about Iran's nuclear program,” Westerwelle said at the beginning of a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem.
“A nuclear-armed Iran would not only pose a threat to Israel but to the stability of the entire region. A nuclear-armed Iran is not an option,” he said, according to AFP.
“We will keep up sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Iran. We still see room for diplomacy,” said Westerwelle in remarks relayed by his office. “We urgently call on Iran to enter into substantial negotiations.”
Speaking alongside Westerwelle, Barak said that Israel knew that “Germany is a pillar in the international community, standing against Iran’s continued movement towards military-nuclear capability, playing a part in both the sanctions and the diplomacy, and whatever might be needed to block them.”