International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi addresses the media after a board of governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria June 15, 2020. (Photo: Reuters)
The head of the UN's nuclear watchdog on Monday called on Iran to allow "prompt access" to two sites where past nuclear activity may have occurred.
"I hope we can do better," Rafael Grossi, director general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters when asked about the agency's current relationship with Iran.
Grossi was speaking at the start of a meeting of the agency's Board of Governors which is expected to discuss a report earlier this month in which the IAEA expressed "serious concern" that Iran has been blocking inspections at two sites.
"There are areas where our cooperation is ongoing and there is this issue where quite clearly we are in disagreement," he said.
Grossi repeated an appeal to Iran to "cooperate immediately and fully" with the agency.
If the Board of Governors pass a resolution critical of Iran, it would be the first of its kind since 2012.
Even though the two sites in question are not thought to be directly relavent to Iran's current activities, the agency says it needs to know if activities going back almost two decades have been properly declared and all materials accounted for.
The report detailed efforts by the agency's officials to get access to the locations.
Iran told the agency the report was a source of "deep regret and disappointment" and hinted the queries were based on "fabricated information" from "intelligence services".
Israel has previously claimed its intelligence services unearthed information on an alleged previous nuclear weapons programme in Iran.
Grossi said that there were "no legal ambiguities" around the requests for access.
"The agency works on the basis of a very rigorous, dogged, meticulous technical and scientific analysis of information," he said, insisting: "Nothing is taken at face value."
Western states have voiced concern over Iran's denial of access to the sites concerned, with the United States being particularly vocal.
- Brink of collapse -
The latest row over access comes as a landmark deal between Iran and world powers in 2015 continues to unravel.
Under the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran committed to curtailing its nuclear activities for sanctions relief and other benefits.
But the Islamic republic has slowly abandoned its commitments after US President Donald Trump's decision two years ago to renounce the deal and reimpose swingeing sanctions.
Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium is now almost eight times the limit fixed in the accord, according to an IAEA assessment published earlier this month.
However, the level of enrichment is still far below what would be needed for a nuclear weapon.
The IAEA says it continues to have access to all the facilities needed to monitor Iran's current nuclear activity.
The latest tension will further complicate efforts by the deal's EU signatories -- the so-called E3 of France, Germany and Britain -- to keep the deal from collapsing.
Trump has called for the E3 to follow his lead and leave the deal.
Last month, the US said it was ending sanctions waivers for nations that remain in the Iran nuclear accord -- a move likely to have most impact on Russian firms working on Iran's nuclear programme.
The American move brought condemnation from the E3 and was branded "unlawful" by Tehran.
Iran is also concerned that the US is pushing for an extension to an international arms embargo against Tehran which is set to be progressively eased from October.
Last week Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged other UN Security Council members, especially veto-wielding China and Russia, to stand against the American "conspiracy".