VIENNA, Austria — Iran has turned away U.N. inspectors wanting to examine its underground nuclear site, heightening suspicions about its atomic agenda, diplomats and U.N. officials said Monday.
The diplomats and officials said Iran’s unprecedented refusal to allow access to the facility at Natanz could seriously hamper international attempts to ensure Tehran is not trying to produce nuclear weapons as well as violate a key part of the Nonproliferation Treaty. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Iran’s alleged defiance was likely to harden Western resolve to punish Tehran if it refuses to compromise on its nuclear ambitions by agreeing to give up uranium enrichment, which can be used to create the fissile core of warheads.
The Islamic republic has set Tuesday as the deadline for its formal response to an international offer of economic and political rewards if it freezes enrichment and negotiates on its nuclear program. But even before that announcement, senior Iranian leaders have already ruled out an enrichment freeze.
Repeating that stance on the eve his country was scheduled to formally answer the offer of rewards if it cooperates — and punishment if it does not — Iran’s supreme leader said that Tehran will continue to pursue the contentious nuclear technology. The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend it by the end of the month or face the threat of sanctions.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has made its own decision and in the nuclear case, God willing, with patience and power, will continue its path,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television.
He accused the United States of pressuring Iran despite Tehran’s assertions that it was not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, as Washington and its key allies contend.
“Arrogant powers and the U.S. are putting their utmost pressure on Iran while knowing Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons,” he said.
Iran on Sunday said it will offer a “multifaceted response” to the incentives proposal while insisting that a full enrichment freeze was out of the question.
Tehran says uranium enrichment does not violate any of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and that its nuclear program aims to produce electricity.
But U.N. officials suggested that its refusal to allow International Atomic Agency inspectors access to the underground nuclear site being built at Natanz was in itself a violation of the treaty because it contravenes Tehran’s commitment under the pact to inform the Vienna-based agency of the progress of such projects.