Iran said on Tuesday that it was within its rights to vet U.N. inspectors who monitor its nuclear facilities after the U.N. watchdog said its work was being hampered by the barring of some of its staff.
"We have this right ... to change the inspectors as per their record," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters.
The U.N. atomic watchdog, in a new restricted report released on Monday, said Iran was complicating a long-running investigation into its controversial nuclear drive by vetoing the nomination of some inspectors.
Earlier this year Iran banned two inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from entering the country, accusing them of filing a "false report."
Speaking to the ISNA news agency late on Monday, atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran had barred the two inspectors because they had filed reports that "were contrary to reality."
He charged that the IAEA itself had privately acknowledged there was some legitimacy to Iran's complaint but had refused to admit it publicly.
"It is our right to choose inspectors as it is the right of all members of the IAEA," ISNA quoted Salehi as saying.
Salehi said that even the IAEA was of the "opinion that the two inspectors gave reports contrary to reality but it does not want to admit it."
He stressed that Iran had accepted both replacement inspectors that the IAEA had nominated.
"Hampering inspection process"
In its report, the IAEA said "repeated objection by Iran to the designation of inspectors with experience in Iran's nuclear fuel cycle and facilities hampers the inspection process."
It "detracts from the agency's capability to implement effective and efficient safeguards in Iran," the U.N. watchdog said.
The vetoing of certain inspectors "makes our work more difficult" because new inspectors need time to gain knowledge and experience of Iran's nuclear program, said a senior diplomat familiar with the IAEA's Iran investigation.
"But it also adds to pressure on the inspectors. Some may feel unsure, they may fear being kicked out of the country" if the Iranians do not agree with their findings, the diplomat said.
Salehi said that inspection of Iran's heavy water plant in the central city of Arak was "not within the bilateral agreement between Iran and the IAEA."
"If the IAEA convinces us... that they must inspect Iran's heavy water installation and the heavy water produced there, I, in the quickest time, will allow inspectors to come," he said.
Iran had allowed IAEA inspectors to inspect the facility in August 2009.
World powers fear that Iran could configure the Arak plant in a way to help make an atom bomb, but Tehran says the reactor is planned to make isotopes only for agricultural and health purposes.
Heavy water reactors do not need enriched uranium fuel to function.
Repeated objection by Iran to the designation of inspectors with experience in Iran's nuclear fuel cycle and facilities hampers the inspection process