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Diplomats: Iran could restrict UN access to nuke sites

Iran is stepping up pressure on the UN nuclear watchdog, accusing its inspectors of espionage and sabotage and threatening to restrict UN access to Iranian nuclear facilities, the Washington Post reported Monday.

According to the report, Iran’s criticism of the International Atomic Energy Agency has been so harsh in recent weeks that some Western officials fear that Tehran is preparing to officially downgrade its cooperation with the only international body allowed to routinely visit the country's most sensitive nuclear installations.

The IAEA’s troubled relations with the Islamic Republic deteriorated sharply last month, after an alleged attack on the electrical grids serving its two uranium-enrichment plants. Iranian officials have alleged the agency was directly involved in the acts of sabotage.

IAEA officials rejected the charges. Since then, the agency’s internal assessments have been unable to confirm that the attacks occurred at all, the Washington Post said, citing to two European diplomats privy to the internal review.

Iran’s atom facilities have been targeted by saboteurs in the past, most notably in a series of cyber attacks attributed to the United States and Israel. However, the inability to dig up evidence for IAEA involvement in recent sabotage has raised concerns that Iran is seeking an excuse to curtail cooperation with UN inspectors, the diplomats said.

The diplomats and other Western officials also note that IAEA delegations visiting Iran in recent weeks have been subjected to unusual intimidation. Several anti-IAEA protests have been held in the capital since mid-August, and inspectors have been privately warned that they could be held responsible for any future attacks on the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities.

“The message from Iran was: ‘If we have to reduce cooperation with you, the IAEA itself will be to blame. And if we get attacked, the IAEA and its leaders will be responsible,’” one European diplomat told the newspaper.