Iranian Guards Physically Harassed Female U.N. Nuclear Inspectors, Diplomats Say

Iranian Guards Physically Harassed Female U.N. Nuclear Inspectors, Diplomats Say

14/09 Allegations come amid rising tensions between Tehran and the U.N. atomic energy agency

Iranian security guards have physically harassed several female United Nations atomic agency inspectors at a nuclear facility over the past few months, diplomats say, and the U.S. has demanded that Iran stop the behavior immediately.

The previously unreported incidents at Iran’s main nuclear facility, Natanz, allegedly included inappropriate touching of female inspectors by male security guards and orders to remove some clothing, the diplomats said.

One of the diplomats said there had been at least four separate incidents of harassment. A second diplomat said there had been five to seven.

A paper circulated by the U.S. among International Atomic Energy Agency members ahead of its member states’ board meeting this week, seen by The Wall Street Journal, demanded an end to such conduct.

“Harassment of IAEA inspectors is absolutely unacceptable, and we strongly urge you to make clear in your national statement at the Board meeting that such conduct is deplorable and must end immediately, and that the Board should take appropriate action if further incidents are reported,” the U.S. paper says.

The first incident was in early June and the most recent was in the past few weeks, the diplomats said.

The reports come amid heightened tension between Iran and the IAEA over Iran’s nuclear activities and its lack of cooperation with the agency. Iranian officials in recent months have increased their criticism of the agency and its director-general, Rafael Grossi, publicly accusing the IAEA of undertaking political attacks and showing bias. Some hard-line and state media have echoed those statements.

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

The IAEA confirmed that there were incidents at an Iranian facility, without providing details.

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

Some diplomats expressed concern that public disclosure of the incidents could sour relations again between the IAEA and Iran following a weekend deal on inspectors’ access to Iranian sites, threatening the agency’s work.

The incidents also coincide with faltering talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Those talks were halted in late June and Iran’s hard-line new president, Ebrahim Raisi, hasn’t fixed a date for negotiations to resume.

The IAEA last week circulated two reports accusing Iran of failure to cooperate with a probe into unreported nuclear-material traces discovered over the past two years in Iran. Tehran says it has answered the appropriate questions.

The IAEA also reported that Iran was refusing the agency access to some of its nuclear-related sites to reset cameras and other equipment monitoring nuclear activities.

The agency hasn’t publicly reported the incidents, nor has it circulated information formally to member states about them, although one of the diplomats said the agency had considered doing so. It is common for the agency to send reports to member states on specific concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. Such formal reports can lead to the censure of Iran by other IAEA members.

The U.S. in its note on Monday asked other member states to raise the incidents at this week’s board meeting.

Iran has tightened security at its nuclear facilities following a string of attacks on them, which it has blamed on Israel. Two explosions at Natanz caused widespread damage to equipment, most recently in April.

Iran has previously faced allegations of harassment against nuclear inspectors. In 2019, as the agency began its probe into the nuclear material found in Iran, a female inspector was detained at Tehran airport and taken back to a hotel where her travel documents were taken away from her, according to diplomats.

Iran said at the time she was briefly detained, claiming she had traces of explosives on her. She was later released.

Other alleged harassment incidents occurred prior to 2013, before serious negotiations of a nuclear deal began among Iran, the U.S., three European powers, Russia and China.

Still, one of the diplomats, a veteran of Iranian nuclear issues, described the recent alleged incidents as more serious than anything previously reported.

“What I understand is that there was touching in different places, sensitive places and so on,” said another of the diplomats about the incidents. Both diplomats said the women were directed by the guards to remove some of their clothing as part of the inspection.

One of the diplomats said he was told that the female inspector involved in the most recent incident “was totally humiliated” by the security guards during the search.

The IAEA has dozens of inspectors who work in Iran, although the number at any one time is often far lower than that. They regularly visit Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow.

The inspectors check that Iran’s nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes and check on the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal, which until February included the monitoring of Iran’s enrichment facilities and many other locations, including uranium ore facilities and assembly sites for making centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium for nuclear fuel.

News of the incidents comes after the U.S. confirmed on Monday it was dropping discussions with Britain, France and Germany of a censure resolution of Iran at this week’s board meeting over Iran’s lack of cooperation with the agency in recent months. Iranian officials had threatened to walk away from nuclear negotiations if a motion advanced.

The Western countries backed off the threat after Iran reached a last-minute deal with the IAEA to allow inspectors to access the monitoring equipment at nuclear-related sites.

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