VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief accused Iran on Thursday of seeking to "tie our hands" and of spreading incorrect information about talks between his inspectors and Tehran, in unusually blunt public criticism that highlights strained ties.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, gave a frank account of two rounds of meetings between a senior IAEA team and Iran in January and February that failed to produce any breakthrough in the nuclear dispute.
The U.N. agency wanted Iran to start addressing its mounting concerns that the Islamic state may be seeking to develop technology relevant to making nuclear weapons, but the IAEA team returned to Vienna empty-handed.
"Before the recent talks in Tehran, I had hoped that Iran had recognised that its old restrictive approach was not the way forward and that Iran was ready to engage with us to resolve outstanding issues," he said in a statement to reporters.
"However on the last day of the February talks, Iran reverted to the old approach and sought to reimpose restriction on our work."
Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, said the agency was ready to continue the dialogue in good faith and that he hoped Iran would not go back to "the old restrictive approach that seeks to tie our hands."
Iran's envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, gave a different version of events in a statement to the IAEA's board, saying the agency had provided a "disappointing" and incomplete picture of the discussions in Tehran
During the talks in the Iranian capital, the IAEA says Iran refused to grant the inspectors access to the Parchin military site, seen as central to the agency's probe.
Speaking on the sidelines of a week-long meeting of the IAEA's board of governors, Amano said he had informed them "that statements made by Iran about the discussions with the agency contain information which is not factually correct."
He added: "This is regrettable."
Amano may have referred to a statement by Iran that it was agreed during the talks that the request to visit Parchin be postponed until after the March IAEA board meeting.
Iranian media reported earlier this week that access to the military complex, southeast of Tehran, could be granted.
But Amano said the agency had received no official communication regarding any such policy shift by Tehran.
"The agency should be able to do its verification job unhampered. If too many restrictions are placed on the agency, we cannot do our job properly," Amano said.
Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Andrew Heavens