U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. REUTERS./

 – Iran‘s decision to bar some U.N. nuclear inspectors suggests it is not interested in being a responsible actor on its atomic program, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday.

The comments suggested Washington is skeptical of Tehran’s desire to engage seriously on restricting its nuclear program.

On Saturday, the head of the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) nuclear watchdog condemned Iran‘s move to bar multiple inspectors assigned to the country, hindering its oversight of Tehran’s atomic activities.

Iran said it was responding to a call led by the United States and three European allies for Tehran to cooperate immediately with the Vienna-based agency on issues including explaining uranium traces found at undeclared sites.

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One of the agency’s key purposes is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons by verifying that states honor their obligations to use nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes.

The IAEA was responsible for verifying Iran‘s compliance with the defunct 2015 Iran nuclear deal, under which Tehran curbed its nuclear program in return for the easing of U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions.

Efforts to revive that deal, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, collapsed about a year ago and Washington has been searching for a new way to get Tehran to restrain its program.

“We tried to work indirectly with Iran as well as with European partners and even Russia and China to see if we can get a return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal … But Iran couldn’t or wouldn’t do that,” Blinken told reporters.

“Just this past week we saw them remove IAEA inspectors who are critical to doing the work at the IAEA to – as best you can – ensure that Iran is consistent with whatever obligations it has,” he said. “That is not evidence of an Iran that is interested in actually being a responsible actor.”

Tehran’s move, known as “de-designation” of inspectors, is allowed; states can generally veto inspectors assigned to visit their nuclear facilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and each country’s safeguards agreement with the agency.

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(Reporting By Humeyra Pamuk in New York and by Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn.; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Gregorio)