WASHINGTON – Iran has begun restricting U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear program and wants seals and surveillance cameras removed from key sites by midmonth, a confidential IAEA report said Monday.
The Iranian decision will drastically inhibit the most effective international mechanism for monitoring Iran’s work on uranium enrichment and ensuring that it’s used only for producing fuel for power plants and not for nuclear weapons.
Moreover, it will be much more difficult for the IAEA to answer crucial questions about the Iranian program, including whether it purchased a blueprint for a nuclear warhead from a Pakistani-led black-market smuggling ring.
“This is Iran escalating,” said David Albright, a former IAEA inspector who directs the Institute for Science and International Security, an independent research center that closely tracks the Iranian nuclear program.
The decision by Iran, the world’s fourth-largest petroleum producer, wasn’t unexpected, but it still sent international oil prices higher, before they settled back to more than $65 a barrel.
It came two days after the 35-member IAEA board of governors overwhelmingly voted to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council for failing for three years to disclose all aspects of its nuclear program to agency inspectors.
The Security Council can impose economic and political sanctions, but it won’t consider what action to take until next month, providing an opportunity for Iran to reach a diplomatic resolution.
A state-run English-language Iranian Internet news site quoted Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, as saying Monday that the regime remained open to dialogue.
Iran says its program is strictly for peaceful purposes, but it acknowledges hiding its nuclear project – including its dealings with the Pakistani-led smuggling network – from IAEA inspectors for 18 years.
The United States and its European allies suspect that Iran’s civilian program is a cover for a covert military-run effort to develop nuclear weapons.