A mysterious blast that shook a centrifuge workshop in Iran is still reverberating among international nuclear monitors who are now reporting that some of their surveillance equipment went missing following the June incident.
The International Atomic Energy Agency told diplomats in a restricted report that failure to recover its recording devices could imperil inspectors’ ability to reconstruct activity at the facility in the town of Karaj, located northwest of Tehran. The workshop produces components for centrifuges -- the fast-spinning machines used to enrich uranium. Iran suspended IAEA access to the site in February but allowed cameras to continue filming and said the data would be given to inspectors if its nuclear agreement with world powers is restored.
The details were tucked into a pair of IAEA reports showing Iran’s new government continues to dramatically increase production of highly-enriched uranium while failing to resume full cooperation with international monitors, potentially complicating efforts by world powers to restore a 2015 accord that lifted sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
The change in administration has held up the resumption of nuclear talks. Envoys assigned to the Vienna-based agency will have to decide whether to censure the Islamic Republic at an annual meeting next week.
Iran originally suggested it had foiled a sabotage plot against the Atomic Energy Organization facility.
Subsequent satellite images posted by Israel’s The Intel Lab showed pieces of roof missing. Iran blames acts of sabotage against its facilities on Israel.
With Israel last week pledging to wage a campaign “of death by a thousand cuts” against Iran’s nuclear program,” according to Haaretz newspaper, the newest IAEA report gives diplomats yet another point to apply pressure on the Islamic Republic over its atomic activities and cooperation with monitors.
Following a flurry of letters exchanged between IAEA and Iran in August, the Islamic Republic took some steps to clarify the fate of the surveillance gear. The country allowed inspectors on Sept. 4 to view the cameras that were installed at the centrifuge workshop. One was destroyed, another was severely damaged and two more appeared intact, according to the 16-page IAEA report seen by Bloomberg.
However, inspectors also noticed that “the data storage medium and the recording unit from the destroyed camera were not present among the remnants,” read the document. That resulted in another sternly-worded letter on Monday to Iran demanding recovery of the equipment.
“As of today, the agency is not in a position to recover continuity of knowledge over the activities recorded by these cameras,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi wrote. “This is seriously compromising the agency’s technical capability.”
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi said in a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel that a confrontation with the atomic watchdog would be “unconstructive” and could escalate tensions even further, according to a statement Wednesday on his official website.