The International Atomic Energy Agency raised the alarm about Iran’s nuclear intentions in a report on Wednesday that said it was “not in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.” 

Tehran has stood by in silence as international parties have voiced allusions to the contrary, and itself has claimed otherwise: One decade ago, the Islamic Republic’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei promised that Iran’s nuclear program was peaceful. 

“Iran is not seeking to have the atomic bomb, possession of which is pointless, dangerous and is a great sin from an intellectual and religious point of view,” Khamenei said at the time. 

This July, Khamenei’s senior advisor Kamal Kharrazi told Al Jazeera TV that Iran has the technical capability to produce an atomic bomb but that it chooses not to do so. However, the nuclear materials detected at three unidentified sites might tell a different story than the official Iranian line. 

In the IAEA’s role as U.N. watchdog, the agency has not gotten answers to the questions concerning these findings.

The agency’s report quoted IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi saying he was “increasingly concerned that Iran has not engaged with the agency on the outstanding safeguards issues during this reporting period and, therefore, that there has been no progress towards resolving them.”

The IAEA report has emerged as American and European negotiators are sounding less confident about the prospects of reviving the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, then described as “a bad deal” by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The IAEA’s investigation into Iran’s nuclear activities seems to be playing a big part in derailing or delaying the talks, as it has not entirely overlooked Iran’s inability to provide credible answers. 

Iran insists that the nuclear agreement can be restored if the U.N. watchdog ends its probe into the uranium material found at undeclared sites in Marivan, Varamin and Turquzabad. In simple terms, Tehran signaled that if the West wants to have a deal, it must first agree not to look into past potential violations of the previous deal, or the conditions based upon which it joined.

Iran insisted that the IAEA has not been treating it in a “fair” and “balanced” manner, and accuses Israel of being the reason for such poor treatment.

“It is feared that the pressure exerted by the Zionist regime and some other actors has caused the normal path of agency reports to change from technical to political,” said Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh. 

In 2018, Netanyahu pointed to Iran’s alleged undeclared nuclear sites in a speech he gave at the U.N. General Assembly. When IAEA inspectors visited the site in Turquzabad and took soil samples, they discovered traces of radioactive material. A February 2021 AFP report claimed there was no indication the site had been used for processing uranium but that it could have been used for storing it as late as the end of 2018.

Prior to May 2018, when former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal, the IAEA stressed that Tehran had abided by its nuclear-related commitments set under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

Over the years, Israel has made claims that Iran deceived the U.N. agency in several ways. 

“Iran lied. Big time,” Netanyahu said in 2018, unveiling a trove of secret nuclear files that Israeli agents had seized in Iran. 

In a famous televised presentation, Netanyahu stressed that Iran had lied when it said it had never sought to develop nuclear weapons, then had cheated by failing to reveal all of its weapons-program information to the IAEA, which was responsible for monitoring the deal.

Furthermore, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett made the case that Iran was spying on the IAEA’s monitoring operations in order to cover up its nuclear activities. In May 2022, Bennett published documents that allegedly proved Iran had gathered secret IAEA reports and circulated them among top officials involved in its nuclear program. 

“After Iran stole classified documents from the U.N.’s Atomic Agency, Iran used that information to figure out what the atomic agency was hoping to find, and then created cover stories and hid evidence to evade their nuclear probes,” Bennett said in a speech. 

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