A top Iranian official told the International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday to focus on nuclear safety rather than "baseless and marginal issues" _ an expression of unhappiness with attempts to probe charges that Tehran wants nuclear arms.
Fereidoun Abbasi's comments to a high-level meeting on improving nuclear safe practices reflected Iran's dissatisfaction with IAEA chief Yukiya Amano for making the Iran investigation a top priority of the agency. It contrasted sharply with other statements on the opening day of the conference that were restricted to the meeting's agenda _ tightening and improving nuclear safety in the wake of Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The criticism of Amano appeared to be the public side of what two senior Western diplomats said was a campaign, led by Iran and supported by fewer than a dozen allies within the agency, to accuse the IAEA chief of what Tehran says is pro U.S. bias.
Washington is leading attempts to increase international pressure on Tehran for flouting U.N. Security Council demands that it stop uranium enrichment and other activities that could be used to make nuclear arms.
Abasi, Iran's nuclear chief, urged Amano to "put all his efforts" toward improving the international nuclear safety regime and criticized his agency's "reliance ... on the unlawful resolutions of the United Nations Security Council."
Iran insists its nuclear programs are peaceful and meant only to generate power for a future nuclear reactor network. But based partially on IAEA investigations and findings, the council has passed four sets of sanctions against the Islamic Republic for refusing to freeze activities that could be used in a weapons program and blocking an IAEA probe into allegations of secret experiments that could reflect attempts to develop an arms program.
One senior delegate said that since the IAEA director-general's latest Iran report in May _ one of a series that is increasingly tough on Tehran's nuclear record _ Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and other countries have accused Amano of "being cozy to the Americans and taking a stand on the side of the U.S.," which suspects Iran's nuclear aim is to reach weapons capacity.
As part of their efforts, they have suggested in private IAEA meetings that Amano showed weak leadership in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, said the delegate who asked for anonymity because his information was privileged.
Abbasi, who survived an assassination attempt last year, is on a list of figures suspected of links to secret nuclear activities in a 2007 U.N. sanctions resolution, which puts a travel ban and asset freeze on those listed. The resolution described him as a Defense Ministry scientist who works closely with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, believed to head secret nuclear projects.
Abbasi is considered close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and some of the president's personnel decisions have been recently challenged by the anti-Ahmadinejad camp, which has turned to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for backing
An official from another IAEA member country _ who asked that he not be named because he said he was relaying his country's intelligence information _ said Khamenei's advisors argued that Abbasi's presence in Vienna could deflect some of the focus from the conference's main concern, nuclear safety and onto Iran's nuclear program.