IAEA calls Iran's treatment of inspectors 'unacceptable'

Security staff subjected female inspectors to inappropriate searches that the US is calling harassment

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi attends an IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, Austria. Reuters
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The International Atomic Energy Agency on Tuesday described incidents in Iran involving its inspectors as being “unacceptable”, with diplomats saying security staff subjected women to inappropriate searches.

The US has called the incidents harassment.

In a first case this year at the Natanz nuclear site, a woman inspector was subjected to an unnecessarily intrusive search by security staff, diplomats who follow the IAEA have said.

Details of the episode in June remain unclear as does the number of repeat incidents since the events at Natanz, where an explosion and power cut that Iran has blamed on Israel damaged machines in its main underground uranium-enrichment plant in April.

“In recent months, there have been some incidents related to security checks of agency inspectors at one Iranian facility,” the IAEA said in a statement issued in response to a Wall Street Journal report on the episodes.

The IAEA, which treats details of inspections as confidential, did not specify the inspectors' gender or say what happened.

“The agency immediately and firmly raised this issue with Iran to explain in very clear and unequivocal terms that such security-related incidents involving agency staff are unacceptable and must not happen again,” the IAEA said.

“Iran has provided explanations related to reinforced security procedures following events at one of their facilities. As a result of this exchange between the agency and Iran, there have been no further incidents.”

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said on Twitter: “Security measures at the nuclear facilities in Iran are, reasonably, tightened. The IAEA inspectors have gradually come up with the new rules and regulations.”

This is not the first time there has been tension between the IAEA and Iran over access to Natanz and the treatment of women inspectors.

In 2019, Iran for the first time briefly held and confiscated the travel papers of a woman inspector. Tehran later said it had been concerned she might be carrying “suspicious material".

After the reported attack in April, Iran also restricted inspectors' access to the main underground enrichment plant, citing security concerns — a standoff that lasted until July.

“IAEA inspectors continue to experience inappropriate harassment from Iranian security officials at nuclear facilities,” the US said in a position paper to other countries on the IAEA Board of Governors meeting this week.

That paper, seen by Reuters, added: “Harassment of IAEA inspectors is absolutely unacceptable.”

Updated: September 15, 2021, 12:57 AM