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. UN nuclear agency asks Iran to back off on rejection of 38 inspectors
VIENNA, Jan 26 (AFP) Jan 26, 2007
The UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency has sharply answered Iran, asking it to reverse its ban on 38 IAEA inspectors from working in the country, a spokeswoman told AFP.

The IAEA "requested Iranian authorities to reconsider their decision," agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Thursday, in the international standoff over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

A diplomat said despite the diplomatic language it still meant the IAEA was "pushing back" as "no country has ever de-designated so many inspectors in one go.

"This is not the type of action that facilitates resolving issues," said the diplomat, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

The United States had Monday denounced Iran's barring some inspectors as an attempt to "dictate terms" to the international community, in comments by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Fleming said the IAEA sent a letter Wednesday calling for all 38 inspectors to be reinstated after an announcement in Iran Monday that the Islamic Republic was blocking them from entering the country.

The strong IAEA response comes even as Iran has sent a letter to the agency asking for the removal of one of the most senior officials overseeing the IAEA's inspection of the Iranian nuclear program, diplomats told AFP.

Iran says the program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity but the United States claims Tehran is hiding work on developing atomic weapons.

Iran had banned Christian Charlier, who is Belgian, last April from entering the country in retaliation for alleged leaks to the press.

Iran has in recent months said it wants Charlier no longer even to see reports on Iran at the agency's safeguards division at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, a diplomat said.

The Iranians do not want Charlier "to see anything on Iran, period," the diplomat said.

The IAEA "received a letter from Iran, which has not been revealed to the press, vehemently protesting that Charlier is still responsible for Iran's nuclear file," another diplomat said.

This diplomat said Charlier is "known for his strict and firm attitude regarding Iran and he is frustrating Iran's efforts to conceal everything that concerns advancing the nuclear project."

The letter was confirmed by yet another diplomat who said Iran had sent it over the past few months and had repeated the request with personal appeals to ElBaradei.

But IAEA officials told Iran that while it "has the right not to give visas, the IAEA decides what it does in Vienna," the diplomat said.

In December 2006, the Iranian parliament had adopted a bill requiring the government to revise its cooperation with the IAEA in retaliation after the UN Security Council that month passed a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment work.

Fleming had Monday said there remained however "a sufficient number of inspectors designated for Iran and the IAEA is able to perform its inspection activities" under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters on Monday that "any country had the right to refuse admission to inspectors", a position confirmed by IAEA diplomats.

Last July, ElBaradei said that 200 inspectors were charged with investigating Iran's nuclear activities, but did not stay permanently in Iran.

Iran has already caused problems for inspectors by delaying some visas and restricting access to certain nuclear installations.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said that only "a few" of the 38 inspectors banned this week "are actually working on Iran, the rest are not."

The banned inspectors are from Britain, France, Germany -- the three EU countries which have led nuclear talks with Iran -- as well as Canada and the United States, the diplomat said.

The diplomat said the ban "certainly hurts the IAEA's flexibility about using its resources to the maximum as there is a potential restriction in its numbers."

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