Tehran said Monday it had banned two U.N. nuclear inspectors from entering the country because they had leaked "false" information about Iran's disputed nuclear program.
The ban is the latest twist in Iran's deepening tussle with the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency and the West over its nuclear program. The United States and its allies warn that Iran's program is geared toward making nuclear weapons.
Tehran denies the charge saying its nuclear activities are only for peaceful purposes like power generation.
The IAEA report in question stated that in January Iran announced it had conducted certain experiments to purify uranium, which could theoretically be used to produce a nuclear warhead. Iran then denied the experiments had taken place a few months later.
When the inspectors in May visited the Jaber Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran, where the alleged high temperature pyroprocessing experiments were conducted, they said the equipment involved had been removed.
The Associated Press reported the IAEA's concerns in May, citing unnamed diplomats.
Iran, however, maintained in June there were no experiments related to pyroprocessing and no equipment was removed and has called the IAEA report "false with the purpose of influencing public opinion."
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi said on state TV that the IAEA had been informed of the decision to ban the inspectors, whom he did not identify.
"We announced names of two inspectors to the agency last week. Those two now have no right to enter Iran anymore," he said. "What they reported was untrue and they revealed it before it was officially reviewed."
Salehi also said Iran would remain loyal to its international commitments to the agency and the IAEA inspectors would still be able to inspect Iran's nuclear facilities.
The IAEA confirmed it received a letter from Iran on June 10 objecting to the inspectors and it stood by the accuracy of its report.
"The IAEA has full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned. The agency confirms that its report on the implementation of safeguards in Iran, issued on May 31, 2010, is fully accurate," press officer Greg Webb said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman called the Iranian move "worrisome." He said it was "symptomatic of its long standing practice of intimidating inspectors" and would heighten world concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
Since 2006, after Iran's nuclear dossier was reported to the U.N. Security Council, Iran limited its cooperation to only its obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
The U.N. Security Council slapped a fourth set of sanctions on Iran earlier this month over its nuclear program. The move followed Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process which can be used for the production of fuel for power plants as well as material for warheads if enriched to a higher level.
In Vienna, meanwhile, Brazil's foreign minister indicated that his country's active support of Iran in its dispute with the West over its nuclear program was being scaled back after the U.N. Security Council's decision earlier this month for new sanctions.
"We will help whenever we can, but of course there is a limit to where we can go," Celso Amorim told reporters on the sidelines of an official visit to Austria.
"If there is renewed interest then we will be able to assist again, if not then we can only wish best of luck" to Iran and its interlocutors in solving their nuclear dispute, he said.
Brazil and Turkey last month brokered an Iranian nuclear fuel-swap deal in hopes that they would at least delay new U.N. sanctions, but the new penalties were imposed nonetheless.
Under the deal — based on elements of an earlier draft — Iran agreed to ship 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds) of low-enriched uranium to Turkey, where it would be stored. In exchange, Iran would get fuel rods made from 20-percent enriched uranium; that level of enrichment is high enough for use in research reactors but too low for nuclear weapons.
Among concerns by opponents of the deal is that Iran has continued to churn out low-enriched material and plans to continue running a pilot program of enriching to higher levels, near 20 percent — a level from which it would be easier to move on to creating weapons-grade uranium.
The U.S. and its allies argue that the sanctions are in response to Iran's refusal to freeze all enrichment activities and not in response to Tehran's fuel swap offer.
Associated Press Writer George Jahn contributed to this report from Vienna.
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