Iran says it has the right to bar UN nuclear inspectors

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's nuclear chief said Tehran has the right to bar some U.N. inspectors from monitoring its disputed nuclear program, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.

Ali Akbar Salehi's comments were in response to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency expressing alarm about Iran's decision to bar some of its inspectors.

Iran recently stripped two inspectors of the right to monitor its nuclear activities after they reported what they said were undeclared nuclear experiments.

ISNA also quoted Salehi as saying Iran asked the agency to replace the two and that it has accepted the replacements.

"This is our right as well as the right of other members of the agency to choose the inspectors," Salehi said late Monday. "Basically, all member nations select from a list provided by the agency."

While all member states select inspectors from an official IAEA list, some Western nations on the agency's 35-nation board argue that because Iran has banned more than 40 inspectors over the past four years, a case could be made that Tehran is violating the agency's so-called Safeguards Agreement.

The agreement is meant to ensure that the IAEA can monitor Iran's nuclear program without impediments to make sure it is solely for peaceful purposes.

The West, led by the United States, suspects that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward making weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying the program is for peaceful purposes only.

Commenting on the latest IAEA report, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, said it showed that Iran is still enriching large amounts of uranium "and this is not good news."

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the report underscored the Obama administration's concerns about a possible military dimension to key aspects of Iran's nuclear program, including uranium enrichment and a heavy water research reactor under construction.

Salehi, also the Islamic Republic's vice president, urged the Vienna-based atomic agency to steer a fair and neutral course, arguing that the IAEA's credibility depended on that.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast echoed Salehi's comments on Tuesday.

"We have the right to replace inspectors regarding their background and activities," he said.

In a related development, six Arab nations across the Persian Gulf from Iran issued a statement Tuesday calling on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA, saying they wanted Tehran to adhere to the principles of international law and help efforts to make the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction.

The statement was issued by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a loose political and economic alliance that groups Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.

The statement's reference to a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction reflected fears by the six nations that Iran could develop nuclear weapons.

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Associated Press writers George Jahn in Vienna and Angela Charlton in Paris and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.