Iran says inspector ban is 'notice' to atomic watchdog
Iran said on Tuesday its barring of two nuclear inspectors serves as "notice" to the head of the UN atomic agency but added Tehran was ready for talks with the watchdog as suggested by France.
"This action (banning the inspectors from entering Iran) is in reality a regulatory notice to (Yukiya) Amano to be careful so that the agency's inspectors do not violate the international entity's charter," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, quoted by the official news agency IRNA.
"Amano should manage the agency professionally," he said, referring to the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Iran said on Monday it was barring two IAEA inspectors from entering the country, accusing them of filing a "false report" and "leaking information" about its nuclear programme which the West suspects masks a weapons drive.
The Islamic republic says its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful purposes.
Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Tehran told the IAEA at its latest meeting that the inspectors had filed a "totally wrong report" and called for them to be replaced by two other inspectors for visits to the country.
Iran's arch-foe Washington quickly criticised Tehran, saying the ban was "symptomatic of its longstanding practice of intimidating inspectors."
"Reducing cooperation with the IAEA will only deepen the world's concern with respect to its nuclear programme," US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
The ban on inspectors came less than a fortnight after the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions against Iran following a US-sponsored resolution.
In addition, the European Union imposed new sanctions of its own on Tehran last week, while senior US lawmakers are further pressuring Iran as they craft a series of unilateral punitive measures that Congress could approve this week.
The US legislation targets firms that provide the Islamic republic with refined petroleum products -- like gasoline or jet fuel -- which Iran imports in large quantities due to a lack of domestic refining capability.
Top US Treasury officials on Tuesday urged private companies to go beyond official sanctions and trim back ties with Iran, saying they played an "extremely important" role in building pressure against Tehran.
"Voluntary actions of the private sector amplify the effectiveness of government-imposed measures," said Stuart Levey, the top Treasury official dealing with sanctions, in prepared testimony for Congress.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose government backed the UN sanctions, has offered to hold talks with Iran at the IAEA, including a proposed nuclear fuel swap deal.
Mottaki, in a state television interview reported by IRNA, welcomed Sarkozy's offer.
"We believe there are serious signs that France is willing to conduct an independent action," Mottaki said.
"We see this approach as positive. If there are more serious signs of such a will, then Europe can enter a new phase of playing a greater role" in resolving Iran's nuclear issue, he said.
Sarkozy told his Russian counterpart at a meeting in Saint Petersburg on Saturday that France was ready "without delay" to hold talks with Iran in Vienna where the IAEA is based.
He reportedly said the talks could address the fuel swap deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey on May 17 and can also "restart negotiation between Iran and the six powers about the (overall) nuclear issue."
Talks between Iran and the six world powers -- Britain, France, Russia, China, the United States and Germany -- have been on the backburner since the fuel swap deal hit a deadlock.
The deal, which is a counter proposal to an IAEA plan drafted last October, envisages Tehran sending 1,200 kilogrammes of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey after which Iran would be supplied at a later date with 20 percent enriched uranium by Russia and France.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said on Tuesday that Iran's willingness to stick to the swap deal, despite the latest sanctions, was "positive."
"I am encouraged by the fact that in spite of a lot of rhetoric, which is natural, President Ahmadinejad said that the Tehran Declaration (the nuclear fuel swap deal) was still on the table," Amorim said in Bucharest.
© 2010 AFP