UN nuclear watchdog proposes ‘timeout’ by both sides on Iran’s nuclear programme
The head of the United Nations atomic watchdog agency is calling for a “timeout” on the Iranian nuclear issue, with Iran suspending uranium enrichment and the international community suspending sanctions over a programme that Tehran says is for producing energy but which others maintain is for making nuclear weapons.
A key to resolving the issue is a direct engagement between Iran and the United States similar to that with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stressed in several interviews over the weekend in Davos, Switzerland, where he attended the World Economic Forum.
“I call on all parties to take a simultaneous timeout. Iran should take a timeout from its enrichment activity, the international community a timeout from the application of sanctions, and parties should go immediately to the negotiating table,” he said. “The right track is dialogue, negotiation.”
The US led successful efforts in the Security Council last month to impose sanctions, maintaining that Iran’s nuclear programme was aimed at weapons production, a claim Tehran consistently denies.
In recent reports, Mr. ElBaradei has noted that although the IAEA has not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, it also cannot conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.
The crisis began with the discovery in 2003 that Iran had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“North Korea is a good example,” Dr. ElBaradei said, stressing the need for US-Iranian talks. “For years, things were not moving. Only when the US talked directly with the North Koreans, we had a positive report. If we are able to talk to the North Koreans, we ought to be able to talk to the Iranians,” he told CNN.
He voiced hope that he would be able to report positively to the IAEA Board of Governors on the implementation of nuclear safeguards in Iran at its next meeting beginning 5 March at IAEA headquarters in Vienna.
“I’d like to report we’re on the right track,” he added. “The right track is dialogue, negotiation... The key to the Iranian issue is a direct engagement between Iran and the US. If I report negatively, and we have escalation and counter-escalation, we are on the wrong track.”
On reports that Iran has banned 38 IAEA inspectors, Dr. ElBaradei told CNN that Tehran was not banning inspectors, but attempting to lower their number. “This reduced somewhat the flexibility we have, but I should say we have over 100 inspectors in Tehran, so we have enough people to do the job,” he said.
“It is in the interest of Iran for us to be able to do our work and to be able to show that they are transparent and they are proactive.”