The Nobel Peace Prize-winning chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency effectively fired his lead Iran investigator this spring at the request of the Iranians, according to a new report in the German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag.
The lead inspector of the 15-man IAEA team in Iran, Chris Charlier, told the newspaper that the IAEA chief, Mohammad ElBaradei, agreed to a request the Iranian government made, and relegated Mr. Charlier, a 64-year-old Belgian, to office work at the organization's Vienna-based headquarters. The Iranian request was reportedly made when Mr. ElBaradei visited Iran in April.
The news could have explosive consequences for America's policy of entrusting Mr. ElBaradei to negotiate an end to Iran's uranium enrichment. In 2004, after intelligence reports found him coaching the Iranians on the intricacies of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, the State Department launched a campaign to prevent Mr. ElBaradei, an Egyptian, from running for an unprecedented third term as IAEA secretary-general. That campaign failed after other countries expressed their support for him.
The five permanent members of the U.N.Security Council have offered Iran a series of incentives if it agrees to halt uranium enrichment and re-enter the negotiations it began with Britain, France, and Germany in 2003. At the end of May, President Bush reversed his long-standing policy of leaving this nuclear diplomacy to Europe and had the State Department offer to join discussions with Iran directly. So far Tehran has yet to respond officially, though its officials have publicly disparaged the offer.
Mr. Charlier told the German newspaper that he believes Iran is hiding elements of its nuclear program. In comments that echoed U.N. inspectors' during the 1990s looking at Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, he said, "Wherever we went, whatever we did, they always followed us, monitoring us with video cameras and capturing every single one of our conversations. Never letting us out of their sight for a second, watching everything over our shoulder. ... How the devil were we supposed to rationally do our work?"
A spokesman for the IAEA yesterday would not comment on the story. Die Welt wrote that officials from the organization confirmed the key facts of the piece and asked the newspaper not to publish it. One of the reasons the officials gave was that it would harm the work of its inspectors on the ground.
Mr. Charlier found this explanation lacking. "Just conceding, without any need, to the extortion of Tehran, by itself puts an end to a working basis. This has de facto ended even a half-way rational inspection of the Iranian nuclear program by the IAEA," he told the newspaper.
Yesterday the Associated Press reported that Iran is threatening the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations not to draft a resolution on Iran's nuclear program.
"Any [GĖ8] summit decision on Iran ó if premature and incomplete ó could harm the current positive trend of negotiations," the wire quoted the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, as saying.
The GĖ8 leaders are scheduled to meet Saturday in St. Petersburg. The opening of that parley is considered a deadline for a response from Iran. Mr. Mottaki yesterday said Iran would not respond to the offers from the West until next month.