VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog on Wednesday condemned as “unacceptable” incidents involving its inspectors in Iran following a news report that Iranian guards had harassed female agency staff.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that guards at Iran’s main nuclear facility, Natanz, physically harassed female International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors in several incidents since early June. The incidents allegedly included inappropriate touching and orders to remove clothing, the report said, citing diplomats. The United States condemned the incidents.

“Harassment of IAEA inspectors is absolutely unacceptable and any repeat of such conduct would be of serious concern,” said US Charge d’Affaires Louis L Bono.

“The safety and well-being of IAEA inspectors must be one of this Board’s highest priorities.” Asked to comment on the report, the IAEA noted in a statement “some incidents related to security checks of agency inspectors at one Iranian facility” in recent months.

“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,” it added.

The statement said there had been no further incidents after the IAEA and Iran exchanged messages on this matter.

“Security measures at the nuclear facilities in Iran are, reasonably, tightened” Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, wrote on Twitter.

“The IAEA inspectors have gradually come up with the new rules and regulations.” The Natanz nuclear facility was hit by an explosion in April, which Tehran has branded an act of sabotage.

Separately, Tehran has restricted IAEA access since earlier this year, along with other steps to ramp up its nuclear activities since 2019, despite an accord with world powers, curbing Iran’s programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

But the 2015 landmark agreement started to unravel when the US withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. Talks to revive the deal with US participation are currently stalled.

Chief nuclear negotiator demoted

Iran has demoted its chief nuclear negotiator, replacing him as deputy foreign minister with an opponent of concessions to the West, state media reported on Wednesday.

Analysts said the reshuffle was intended as a warning that a much tougher policy could lie ahead if talks drag on over bringing Washington back into a landmark nuclear deal that was abandoned by former US president Donald Trump.

Abbas Araghchi was one of the key negotiators of the 2015 agreement but his role in the talks will now be limited to that of ministry adviser, state media said.

He will be replaced as deputy minister by Ali Bagheri, a protege of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi who served as his deputy for international affairs when Raisi was judiciary chief.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2021

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