‘The evidence’: PM releases seized documents he says show Iran spied on UN nuclear watchdog

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday released documents he says were taken from Iran and show Iranian intelligence services spied on the UN atomic agency to better cover up its rogue nuclear activities.

Bennett tweeted a link to the files, which are in Persian, along with a video in which he responded to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s remarks dismissing the spying allegations last week as “Zionist lies”.

“Spreading lies? Go on. I hold the proof of your lies here in my hands,” Bennett said in the video, showing copies of the documents. “You see, after Iran stole classified documents from the UN Atomic Agency, Iran used that information to figure out what the atomic agency hoped to find, then created covers and hid evidence to evade their nuclear probes.

“So how do we know this? Because we got our hands on Iran’s deception plan a few years ago. And it’s here, in my hands,” Bennett said, referring to a daring 2018 operation that saw Israeli agents extract hundreds of thousands of documents on Iran’s nuclear program from a warehouse in Iran.

“Here it is, in the Persian language, hundreds of pages stamped with the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence stamp,” Bennett said.

He said some of the documents contained handwritten notes, including one from Iranian Defense Minister Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, considered the head of Iran’s nuclear program. Fakhrizadeh was assassinated in an ambush in November 2020 near Tehran, in an operation attributed to Israel.

In the memo, the minister wrote, “Sooner or later they (referring to the atomic agency) will ask us – and we’ll need to have a full cover story for them,” Bennett quoted.

“Iran lied to the world, Iran is still lying to the world right now, and the world needs to make sure that Iran doesn’t get away with it,” Bennett warned.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last Thursday, Amir Abdollahian, the The Iranian foreign minister was directly questioned during an interview about the alleged IAEA spying operation.

“Unfortunately the Zionists spread a lot of lies,” he replied, according to an English translation in Bennett’s video.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during the 51st annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

Revelations about Iranian spying on the IAEA were published last week by the Wall Street Journal, based on documents from the archives Israel took from Tehran. The Journal said it had access to documents “from a Middle Eastern intelligence agency from a country that opposes Iran’s nuclear program.” Previously, only US intelligence services had received the full archive material, with partial access also granted to independent experts.

According to the Journal report, Iranian officials gained access to International Atomic Energy Agency documents and circulated them among senior officials involved in its nuclear program between 2004 and 2006, and were thus able to prepare cover stories, falsify information, and gain insight into what the inspectors have been up to. and did not know.

Illustrative: Iran’s alleged atomic warehouse in Turquzabad, Tehran. (YouTube screenshot)

In a statement Tuesday containing Bennett’s response to Amir-Abdollahian, the prime minister’s office noted that the IAEA had just released a report on alleged undeclared nuclear material found at three sites and Iran’s refusal to respond. to questions about pitches. One of the sites in question was identified by Israel and was later confirmed by IAEA inspectors.

Iran said, also on Tuesday, that Monday’s IAEA report was “not fair” and suggested the critical assessment was prompted by “pressure” from Jerusalem.

“Unfortunately, this report does not reflect the reality of the negotiations between Iran and the IAEA,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Khatibzadeh told reporters.

“It’s not a fair and balanced report,” he said, adding, “We expect this path to be corrected.”

In the report, the UN nuclear watchdog said it still had “uncleared” questions about previously undeclared nuclear material found at three sites – Marivan, Varamin and Turquzabad, a district of Tehran, previously identified by Israel as an alleged site of secrecy. atomic activity.

He said his longstanding efforts to get Iranian officials to explain the presence of nuclear material had not provided the answers he sought.

Iran saw an Israeli hand in the IAEA findings.

“It is feared that pressure from the Zionist regime and some other actors has shifted the normal path of agency reporting from technical to political,” Khatibzadeh said.

Earlier, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Mohammad Reza Ghaebi, said the IAEA report “does not reflect Iran’s extensive cooperation with the agency.”

“Iran considers this approach unconstructive and destructive for the current close relations and cooperation between the country and the IAEA,” he said, adding, “The agency should be aware of the destructive consequences of the publication such one-sided relationships”.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi is seen before the start of the quarterly Board of Governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna on March 7, 2022. (Joe Klamar /AFP)

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the Turquzabad site on several occasions after then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu identified it in a 2018 speech to the United Nations General Assembly. United Nations, took soil samples and then definitively concluded that there were “traces of radioactive material” there. , Israeli Channel 13 reported in 2019.

Sources told AFP in February 2021 that there was no indication that the site had been used for processing uranium, but that it could have been used to store it until the end of 2018.

In a separate report on Monday, the IAEA estimated that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had reached more than 18 times the limit agreed to in the troubled 2015 pact between Tehran and the major powers, known as the Joint Global Action Plan.

It “estimated that as of May 15, 2022, Iran’s total enriched stockpile was 3,809.3 kilograms”.

The limit in the JCPOA was set at 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of a specific compound, the equivalent of 202.8 kilograms of uranium. The report also said that Iran was continuing its uranium enrichment to levels above the 3.67% limit of the agreement.

The stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% is now estimated at 238.4 kilograms, up 56.3 kilograms since the last report in March, while the amount enriched to 60% stands at 43.1 kilograms , an increase of 9.9 kilograms.

Enrichment levels of around 90% are required for use in a nuclear weapon.

Earlier in May, the IAEA said it was “extremely concerned” about Iran’s silence on possible undeclared nuclear sites.

“I am referring to the fact that over the past few months we have been able to identify traces of enriched uranium in places that had never been declared by Iran as places where activities were taking place,” he said. the head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, to a European interlocutor. parliamentary committee.

“The situation is not looking very good. Iran, at this time, has not provided the type of information that we need from them… We are extremely concerned about this,” Grossi said.

Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is peaceful. Israel views a nuclear-threshold Iran as an unacceptable threat, as Tehran is openly committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.

US and Israeli officials have estimated that Iran now only needs a few weeks to amass enough fissile material for a bomb, if it chooses to make one, although it would need more time to build one. assemble the other components of the device.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, May 17, 2022. (Gilad Kvalarchik/Gilad Kvalarchik)

“[Iran] is weeks away from accumulating sufficient fissile material for a first bomb, holds 60 kilograms of 60% enriched material, produces uranium metal at the 20% enrichment level, and prevents the IAEA from accessing its facilities,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on May 17.

Officials in the current US administration, led by US President Joe Biden, attribute the drop in escape time from Iran to former President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the JCPOA agreement in 2018 The deal gave Iran relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for restrictions. on his nuclear activities intended to prevent him from developing an atomic bomb, an ambition he has always denied. But after pulling out, Washington reimposed biting sanctions on Tehran, prompting Iran to start backtracking on its own commitments.

“Their escape period went from about a year, which we knew during the deal, to a few weeks or less,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a conference. press in February.

Both reports came as talks in Vienna to revive the JCPOA remain deadlocked after stalling in March.

One of the main sticking points is Tehran’s demand – rejected by Washington – that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideological arm of the Iranian military, be removed from the US terrorism blacklist.

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