TEHRAN Iran's nuclear energy chief hit out at the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog on Tuesday, suggesting he had made a "big mistake" by criticizing Tehran's barring of some nuclear inspectors.
The comments by Ali Akbar Salehi, reported by the official IRNA news agency, were a further sign of worsening relations between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since Yukiya Amano became IAEA Director General in December.
The Japanese diplomat has taken a sharper approach on Iran than his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei, saying in reports that the Islamic state could be trying to develop a nuclear-armed missile now, instead of only at some point in the past.
Iran has accused Amano of issuing misleading and politicized reports about its nuclear programme, which the West suspects is aimed at making atom bombs. Tehran denies the charge, saying its work is aimed at generating electricity.
On Monday, Amano said Iran had "not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."
He also said in a speech to the IAEA's governing board that Iran was hampering the U.N. body's work in the country by refusing to admit some inspectors, a charge Iran flatly rejected.
Iran says two inspectors it barred in June had provided "false" information about its nuclear programme. Amano said he had full confidence in their professionalism and impartiality.
"Mr Amano made these remarks either knowingly or unknowingly. If it was knowingly, he made a big mistake which is very dangerous because it indicates that he has been under political pressure," Salehi said on Tuesday.
Salehi, who is expected to attend the IAEA's annual assembly meeting in Vienna next week, said Amano was not "acting within the agency regulations," adding that he was also not objective.
Apart from those barred in June, Tehran canceled access for a high-ranking Middle East inspector in 2006 and has objected to a number of other inspector designations in the past.
Amano's latest report on Iran showed it was pushing ahead with its nuclear work in defiance of tougher sanctions, and voiced growing frustration over what the IAEA sees as Iran's failure to address concerns about possible military dimensions to its activities.
(Reporting by Ramin Mostafavi; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by David Stamp)