PARIS — Iran indefinitely suspended international inspections of its nuclear facilities on Saturday in an angry response to a resolution by the U.N. atomic agency that criticized its activities.
The suspension came after a week of tense negotiations at the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, where Iran sought to quash and then soften international censure of its failure to fully disclose its clandestine nuclear program to the world.
"Today, IAEA inspectors were expected to arrive in Iran," Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, said at a news conference in Iran's capital, Tehran. "We will not allow them to come until Iran sets a new date for their visit. This is a protest by Iran in reaction to the passage of the resolution."
On Friday, Tehran postponed the visit by U.N. inspectors until the end of April, saying it did so because of the approach of the Iranian New Year, which begins March 20. Many diplomats, however, took the postponement as a warning to the atomic energy agency's board that it risked losing the country's future cooperation if it passed a critical resolution.
The agency's director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei, sought to play down Iran's latest action, telling reporters, "I'm pretty confident that Iran will understand that we need to go within the time scheduled, and the decision to delay the inspection will be reviewed and reversed within the next couple of days."
But the delay is likely to deepen Washington's conviction that the country is hiding a nuclear weapons program.
Iran insists its work is for purely peaceful purposes.
If inspections are not resumed soon, tension between Washington and Tehran is likely to be heightened, and the atomic energy agency might offer even harsher criticism when its board of governors meets again in June.
Kenneth Brill, the chief U.S. delegate to the meeting, told reporters that he suspected the freeze was an attempt by Iran to gain time and hide its activities before allowing agency inspectors access to new sites.
"Is it possible that, even as we meet, squads of Iranian technicians are working at still undeclared sites to tile over, paint over, bury, burn or cart away incriminating evidence, so that those sanitized locations can finally be identified to the agency as new evidence of Iran's full cooperation and transparency?" he asked, as reported by The Associated Press.
A spokesman for the atomic energy agency said the agency expected Iran to set a new date for inspections before it caused further damage to the relationship. "Every state has a right to work with us on the timing of inspections, and even our agreements allow for holidays and that sort of thing," he said. "We believe we're going get back on track based on the fact that we've been working cooperatively with Iran for a long time and we believe it's in their interest to continue."