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Inspectors So Far Denied Access to Iran’s Scientists

BN-JS746_AMANO_J_20150805175533International Atomic Energy Agency technicians inspect the site of a uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, central Iran, in 2007. Photo: Abedin Taherkenareh/European Pressphoto Agency

Stance complicates the International Atomic Energy Agency’s probe into suspected nuclear-military program.

WASHINGTON—Iran so far has refused to allow United Nations inspectors to interview key scientists and military officers to investigate allegations that Tehran maintained a covert nuclear-weapons program, the head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog said in an interview Wednesday.

Iran’s stance complicates the International Atomic Energy Agency’s probe into Tehran’s suspected nuclear-military program—a study that is slated to be completed by mid-December, as required by the landmark nuclear agreement forged between world powers and Iran on July 14 in Vienna.

The IAEA and its director-general, Yukiya Amano, have been trying for more than five years to debrief Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, an Iranian military officer the U.S., Israel and IAEA suspect oversaw weaponization work in Tehran until at least 2003.

Mr. Amano said Tehran still hasn’t agreed to let Mr. Fakhrizadeh or other Iranian military officers and nuclear scientists help the IAEA complete its investigation. The Japanese diplomat indicated that he believed his agency could complete its probe even without access to top-level Iranian personnel.

“We don’t know yet,” Mr. Amano said about the agency’s interview requests. “If someone who has a different name to Fakhrizadeh can clarify our issues, that is fine with us.”

Tehran repeatedly has denied it ever had a secret nuclear weapons program.

But during an interview in Washington, Mr. Amano said Iran still hasn’t agreed to provide access to Mr. Fakhrizadeh or other top Iranian military officers and nuclear scientists to assist the IAEA in completing its probe. Mr. Amano visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday in a bid to assure skeptical U.S. lawmakers the IAEA is capable of implementing a vast inspections regime of Iran’s nuclear facilities and clarifying the weaponization issue.

Senate Republicans and skeptical Democrats, however, left the 90-minute closed-door meeting frustrated that Mr. Amano refused to share the agency’s classified agreements on access to Iranian military sites, scientists and documents.

“I would say most members left with greater concerns about the inspection regime than we came in with,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) told reporters. “It was not a reassuring meeting.”

The IAEA has declined to make public the specifics of its investigation, citing confidentiality agreements it maintains with Iran and other countries participating in safeguards programs. Mr. Amano said Wednesday that it was his “legal obligation” to protect confidential information, stressing that such arrangements ensure the IAEA’s independence.

“Imagine if a country provides me with confidential information and I do not honor that commitment,” Mr. Amano told reporters after the meeting. “No country will share information with me,” he said, noting the agency also protects U.S. information.

Many senators remained dissatisfied with his answers, saying they doubted the strength of the inspection regime. Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.) said he was concerned that Iran would be responsible for collecting its own samples, rather than the international agency.

“It’s like asking an NFL player to mail in their own urine sample instead of the collection being done so you can verify what you’re getting is real,” Mr. Barrasso said. “My impression listening to him was that the promises the president made are not verifiable.”

Some Democrats who have said they would support the deal when Congress votes on it next month said the debate about the confidential documents was a convenient target for critics.

“We don’t need this IAEA program to discover whether or not Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapon—they were,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.), who endorsed the deal Wednesday. “A lot of this debate over getting access to this confidential agreement is a red herring created by people who were never going to support this agreement in the first place.”


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