Reuters: The veteran official who has overseen U.N. nuclear inspections in Iran has been removed from his post nine months after Tehran banned him from entering the country, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday. By Mark Heinrich
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The veteran official who has overseen U.N. nuclear inspections in Iran has been removed from his post nine months after Tehran banned him from entering the country, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday.
Chris Charlier, a Belgian in charge of the Iran dossier at the International Atomic Energy Agency, will be switched to IAEA section head for Brazil and Argentina from April 1, said the diplomat, familiar with agency operations.
Iran, slapped with U.N. sanctions in December for refusing to stop enriching uranium for nuclear fuel and impeding IAEA inquiries spurred by suspicions of a covert atom bomb project, had written the IAEA last month demanding Charlier’s ouster.
The senior diplomat said IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei had decided to take Charlier off the Iran file not to appease Iran, whose demand Washington called “outrageous”, but because the Iranian ban had handicapped his ability to perform his job.
He dismissed Iranian allegations that Charlier was biased against Tehran and had passed confidential data about Iranian nuclear sites to Western powers arrayed against Tehran.
“But there was no magic solution. Iran will not give Charlier a visa. Being unable to go into Iran, he could not do the job effectively enough. Charlier was told of the decision last week,” the diplomat told Reuters.
Charlier, with 25 years experience in the IAEA, is to be replaced as Iran section head by another inspector of similar seniority with previous experience in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
IAEA CANNOT ‘PARACHUTE’ INTO IRAN
“Of course Iran cannot tell the IAEA who to assign to Iran. But they have the sovereign right to reject an inspector they may not like. The IAEA cannot shoot its way into Iran or parachute people in,” the diplomat said.
“I know some (IAEA) member states will say the agency buckled to Iranian pressure. But the IAEA has other very qualified personnel who can fill this job. The IAEA cannot cling to one man in one position like this (at a time like this).”
Last month, the United States accused Iran of “inspector shopping” in seeking Charlier’s exit. “The tone of those kinds of actions are indicative of their continued defiance,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at the time.
Iran last month also banned 38 inspectors — all nationals of Western states that sponsored or backed the U.N. sanctions resolution — among the 200 assigned to work full or part-time in the Islamic Republic.
Tehran, the world’s No. 4 oil exporter, says its efforts to enrich uranium are meant solely to generate electricity as an alternative energy source.
However, an internal European Union document has concluded that Iran will at some point be able to develop sufficient weapons-grade material for a nuclear bomb, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.
“Attempts to engage the Iranian administration in a negotiating process have not so far succeeded,” said the document, compiled by the staff of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The Iranian government declared Charlier persona non grata after he was quoted by a German newspaper as saying the Iranians were probably hiding sensitive activity from the IAEA.
He also complained in a BBC documentary of Iranians shadowing inspectors with video cameras.
Some diplomats said the IAEA leadership was not pleased with the quoted remarks as they departed from a general rule among inspectors to avoid the media to help ensure the confidentiality of their work. But after the comments and Iran’s ban, the IAEA said Charlier would remain as Iran section chief.
In January, ElBaradei said Iran was trying to cut the number of IAEA inspectors but that regular surveillance could go on.
“This reduced somewhat the flexibility we have, but I should say we have over 100 inspectors in Tehran, so we have enough people to do the job,” he told CNN television.