Iran has dismissed criticism by the International Atomic Energy Agency of its refusal to let one IAEA expert into the country as part of a team investigating allegations of nuclear weapons research.
Tehran said it had a sovereign right to decide who to let onto its territory. But its failure to issue a visa to an IAEA official, that diplomatic sources said was probably a Western atomic bomb expert, may add to longstanding Western suspicions it is stonewalling the U.N. agency's inquiry.
The IAEA said last month that Iran had not issued a visa for one member of a team that visited Tehran on Aug. 31 to try to advance the investigation into what the U.N. agency calls the possible military dimensions of the country's nuclear program.
It was the third time the person, whom it did not identify, had not obtained an entry permit.
It is important, the IAEA added in a Sept. 5 report on Iran's nuclear program, that “any staff member identified by the agency with the requisite expertise is able to participate in the agency's technical activities.”
But, in a statement distributed to IAEA member states this week, Iran said that issuing visas was “our sovereign national right and we will issue it when we deem it appropriate.”
The IAEA has for years been trying to investigate allegations that Iran has worked on designing a nuclear bomb.
Iran says its nuclear work is a peaceful, but suspicions in the West that the civil nuclear program is a front for weapons development have led to punishing economic sanctions, which Tehran hopes will be lifted if ongoing negotiations with world powers succeed in ending the standoff.
IAEA member states have the right to deny access to individual inspectors proposed by the U.N. agency, and Iran has for several years blocked staff from some Western nations, including the United States, to check its nuclear sites.
A separate, high-level IAEA team in charge of the Iran inquiry - which at least on some occasions has included officials from France, the United States and Britain - has held several meetings in Tehran since early 2012, including one this week.
Western officials say Iran needs to cooperate with the IAEA probe if it wants to reach a diplomatic deal with world powers.
Last month's IAEA report said Iran had failed to answer questions about possibly military dimensions of its nuclear program by an agreed Aug. 25 deadline, in a possible setback for the broader diplomacy between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia.
Iran rejects the accusations as baseless. But it has promised, since Hassan Rouhani, seen as a pragmatist, became president last year on a platform to end its international isolation, to work with the IAEA to clear up the suspicions.
“We continue to cooperate with the IAEA on some of the ambiguities in order to clarify and resolve them,” said the Iranian communique to IAEA member countries, which was dated Sept. 19 but only posted on the IAEA's website this week.
While the powers seek to limit the size of Iran's future nuclear program - and thereby extend the time it would need for any bid to amass fissile material for a weapon - the IAEA is investigating alleged research and experiments in the past that could be used to make the bomb itself.