US accuses Iran of intimidating UN inspectors investigating Tehran's nuclear program

VIENNA (AP) — A U.S. envoy accused Iran on Wednesday of intimidating U.N. nuclear inspectors in an effort to influence their findings — a move he said may lead to "appropriate action," from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Britain, France and Germany also criticized Iran for its decision to ban several inspectors in a toughly worded statement also critical of Tehran for ignoring U.N. Security Council demands to stop nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons.

"Iran is pursuing ... programs which have no credible peaceful purposes," said the statement to the IAEA's 35-nation board, delivered by French chief delegate Florence Mangin. "The only conclusion we can draw from this is that Iran remains determined to pursue a nuclear program which could provide it with military capabilities."

In warning of "appropriate action," Glyn Davies, the chief U.S. delegate to the nuclear agency, did not go into details in comments to the board. But he referred to the phrase as part of the authority given the board if the agency's inspectors are hampered in carrying out their duties by the nation under inspection.

If the country is found to have violated commitments on how and what the International Atomic Energy Agency is allowed to inspect, the board could then formally report the breach to the U.N. Security Council in a resolution — a move that would add to international pressure on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear activities.

Iran is under four sets of Security Council sanctions for refusing to stop uranium enrichment and ignoring other demands meant to ease international concern that it seeks to make nuclear weapons.

Enrichment can make both nuclear fuel and the fissile warhead material. Iran, which kept its enrichment activities under wraps until they were revealed eight years ago, says it is enriching only to fuel a future network of nuclear reactors.

While initially offering partial cooperation with an International Atomic Energy Agency probe three years ago of intelligence reports that it had conducted secret experiments meant to help it develop nuclear arms, Iran subsequently fended off questions and inspections, saying all queries had been laid to rest.

In comments inside the closed meeting made available to reporters, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano fended off Iranian accusations that the intelligence was forged.

"It is broadly consistent and credible in terms of technical and other details," he said. "This is why we are concerned."

The dispute over the inspectors arose from Iran's decision to bar two International Atomic Energy Agency experts several months ago after they reported that the country was experimenting with pyroprocessing, a procedure that can be used to purify uranium metal used in nuclear warheads.

Iran says the inspectors misreported what they saw and notes that every nation has the right to approve inspectors put forward by the agency.

But Davies told the board meeting that barring inspectors because "they report accurately ... is unprecedented."

Iran's ban is a "clear effort to intimate inspectors and thereby influence the conclusions" they make, he said.

A European Union statement to the board also expressed "serious concern" about the ban, saying it "hampers the safeguards process in Iran."

Diplomats inside the closed meeting said Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh Amano for complaining about Tehran's decision to bar the two. But Amano stood firm, declaring: "I request Iran not to de-designate any more inspectors with experience" inside the country.

Amano had warned at the board's opening session Monday that the bans hampered his watchdog agency's attempts to monitor Iran's nuclear program. Amano on Monday also urged Iran to withdraw its 2007 ban on 38 inspectors, announced in apparent retaliation for the imposition of U.N. sanctions because of the Islamic Republic's refusal to freeze enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel and the fissile warhead material.

Since then, Iran has refused to accept inspectors from the five U.N. Security Council nations — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China, all nuclear weapons states whose experts posses the kind of knowledge on nuclear weapons research that IAEA officials say the agency cannot provide through training. Germany, which also supported the sanctions, is also not allowed to send inspectors to Iran.