VIENNA -- Iran has accused the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of acting like an "intelligence organization" as it presses Tehran to answer questions about the potential military dimensions of its nuclear program.
Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, launched the accusation at the agency's headquarters in Vienna on June 6.
"The [IAEA] has diverted from its principal statutory mandate," he said. "Unfortunately, the agency, which is supposed to be an international technical organization, is somehow playing the role of an intelligence agency."
Soltanieh also accused Western powers of trying to change the nature of the IAEA for their own purposes:
"The polarization of member states and the agency [being] politicized so much is due to the mistakes and the politically motivated intentions of those few members states in the board of governors," he said, "particularly those who have the permanently designated seats, mainly the Western countries."
Soltanieh spoke as the UN nuclear agency seeks to negotiate a "structured approach" accord with Iran designed to ensure that Iran has an entirely peaceful nuclear program.
Iran and the IAEA are due to meet in Vienna on June 8 to discuss the planned new accord further.
Soltanieh indicated that Iran will still cooperate with the IAEA in efforts to agree upon the so-called structured approach. "We have decided to work with the agency on these allegations to show they are fabricated," he said.
Asked by reporters if that included allowing inspectors to visit Iran's controversial Parchin military-industrial facility*, Soltanieh suggested it did. He said a visit to Parchin by inspectors would produce "shameful results" for those who suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Western powers and the IAEA say Iran built a facility at Parchin in 2000 for explosive testing related to the development of nuclear weapons.
Analysts say that Soltanieh's attack on the credibility of the IAEA may signal tough negotiating ahead when Iran and the IAEA meet in Vienna on June 8 over the planned new structured approach.
Mark Hibbs, a senior associate of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Bonn-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, suggests that Iran and the IAEA are at odds over how the structured approach might work.
According to Hibbs, Iran wants a process whereby the outstanding questions about its military program are addressed one-by-one, then taken permanently out of discussion as each is considered answered.
"It basically is a strangulation strategy which would provide Iran the opportunity to close off investigation on outstanding issues in a consecutive manner," he says.
"[This means] that when you get toward the end of your investigation, if you get new information that suggests there are still outstanding questions raised about an issue that Iran has said is closed, the agency can't go back and re-raise that subject."
The IAEA is reported to be resisting Iran's suggested approach, saying it wants to address all the outstanding questions comprehensively.
As Iran and the IAEA meet on June 8, there are no indications that they will be able to reach agreement early enough to sign the planned new accord this week.
Instead, the negotiating process could last several more weeks.
On June 6, the European Union issued a statement in Vienna calling on Iran to conclude the new agreement with the IAEA "without delay."
* CORRECTION: Article amended to reflect correct date of planned Iran-IAEA meeting to June 8 and to describe Parchin as a "military-industrial facility."