Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Tsafrir Abayov/FILE PHOTO/REUTERS

 – Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accused Iran on Tuesday of stealing internal U.N. nuclear watchdog reports under a plan to prepare ways of staving off scrutiny of its nuclear programme.

Neither Tehran nor the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) immediately responded to requests for comment about the allegations, which appeared to be part of an Israeli campaign to dissuade big powers from renewing a 2015 Iranian nuclear deal in now-stalled Vienna negotiations.

Iran stole classified (IAEA) documents … and used that information to systematically evade nuclear probes,” Bennett said in a social media post that included a selection of the alleged stolen files, some of them translated into English.

“How do we know? Because we got our hands on Iran’s deception plan.”

A Bennett aide said the latter assertion referred to Israeli spies’ publication in 2018 of what they said was a secret trove of documents seized in Iran and related to its nuclear projects. Tehran called that so-called “Atomic Archive” a fabrication.

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Bennett quoted an Iranian defence official as writing in the alleged documents that “sooner or later they (IAEA) will ask us, and we’ll need to have a comprehensive cover story for them”.

Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful. Israel, Washington and the IAEA have long made clear that they believe Iran had a coordinated nuclear weapons programme until 2003.

The IAEA spent more than a decade investigating Iran‘s past activities, and is now again seeking answers from Iran on the origin of uranium particles found at three undeclared sites.

Separately, the United States and five other powers have pursued talks with Iran on renewing the 2015 deal that former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned, deeming it insufficient.

Israel is not a party to those negotiations but has some sway over foreign powers. “We are saying: This is not a good deal, and there won’t be a disaster if it’s not signed,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM.

(Writing by Dan Williams and Francois Murphy; Editing by Alison Williams)

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