VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog’s independence is paramount and it does not take intelligence presented to it at face value, it said on Tuesday in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s description of a “secret atomic warehouse” in Iran.
Netanyahu - who vehemently opposes the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that the International Atomic Energy Agency is policing - made the statement in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week. He urged the IAEA to visit the site in Tehran.
A U.S. State Department official seconded that call, but a U.S. intelligence official called Netanyahu’s assertions “somewhat misleading”, adding that the facility does not contain anything that would enable Iran to accelerate activities banned under the deal.
“The agency sends inspectors to sites and locations only when needed. The agency uses all safeguards relevant to information available to it but it does not take any information at face value,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in a statement.
Amano’s statement made no specific reference to Israel or the statement but it is his first public pronouncement since Netanyahu’s speech. He said the IAEA has carried out so-called complementary access inspections, which are often at short notice, at all locations in Iran it has needed to visit.
The IAEA has repeatedly reported that Iran is implementing the restrictions placed on its nuclear activities under the deal, which also lifted international sanctions against Tehran. President Donald Trump has, however, pulled Washington out of the accord and U.S. sanctions are being re-imposed.
“All information obtained, including from third parties, is subject to rigorous review and assessed together with other available information to arrive at an independent assessment based on the agency’s own expertise,” Amano said.
“In order to maintain credibility, the agency’s independence in relation to the implementation of verification activities is of paramount importance,” he added.
Netanyahu’s office, however, doubled down on Tuesday and called for the IAEA to visit the location he described immediately. Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman also told reporters Israel would “expose additional facilities” at a time of its choosing.
“There is not reason to wait,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “The IAEA should check the site and immediately send inspectors with a radiation detector and the prime minister’s statement will be found to be the whole truth.”
Reporting by Francois Murphy; additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg