IAEA urges Iran to 'unblock' nuclear stalemate
UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei urged Iran yesterday to "unblock" its nuclear standoff and expressed hope that a possible change in US policy towards Tehran would break the deadlock.
"I again urge Iran to implement all measures required to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme at the earliest possible date and to unblock this stalemated situation," ElBaradei said in his opening speech to the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board of governors here.
And he added: "I am hopeful that the apparent fresh approach by the international community to dialogue with Iran will give new impetus to the efforts to resolve this long-standing issue."
The Egyptian-born diplomat did not specifically mention the United States, but he was clearly referring to the signal from new President Barack Obama that he is ready to talk with Iran directly to resolve the standoff.
Even after a six-year investigation, the IAEA has been unable to say once and for all whether Iran's controversial nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, as Tehran claims.
In the watchdog's latest report on the matter, ElBaradei complained that Iran was stonewalling on key questions regarding the possible military dimension of past nuclear work and also defying UN orders to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can be used not only to make nuclear fuel, but also the fissile material for a bomb.
Referring to IAEA's investigation into allegations of illicit nuclear work by Syria, ElBaradei pressed Damascus to come clean on a suspect site in the remote desert, which the US alleges had been an undeclared nuclear reactor until it was bombed by Israeli planes in September 2007.
"The agency expects Syria to provide additional information and supporting documentation about the past use and nature of the building at the Dair Alzour site," ElBaradei said.
Syria must also provide access to additional related sites, the IAEA chief said.
"Such access, together with the sampling of the destroyed and salvaged equipment and debris, is essential for the agency to complete its assessment," he said.
Earlier Iran on Monday reiterated its denial that it is seeking to make a nuclear bomb, after top US military commander Admiral Mike Mullen alleged that Tehran has enough fissile material to build such a weapon.
"All this talk is baseless," foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said at his weekly news conference.
When asked if Iran had enough nuclear material to manufacture an atomic bomb Mullen told CNN on Sunday: "We think they do, quite frankly," the first time Washington has made such an assessment.
But Ghashghavi on Monday insisted that Tehran is not working on making a the bomb.
"For that to be true, two things would have to happen... first, Iran has to exit the NPT (non-proliferation treaty) and second, it should be proved that Iran is seeking high-enriched uranium," he said.
Ghashghavi said Tehran's nuclear programme is under the supervision of the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"Technically speaking there are IAEA cameras and the IAEA is testing the purity of Iranian material," he said.
"Therefore, how can it be possible that with this level of supervision, low-enriched material can be turned into highly-enriched one?."
The IAEA, in its report last month, said Tehran now has 1,010 kilograms (2,227 pounds) of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride (LEU) from its enrichment activities at a plant at Natanz.
Experts claim that is sufficient for a nuclear weapons breakout capability which is defined as securing enough low-enriched uranium, used for nuclear fuel, to turn into highly enriched uranium (HEU) needed for nuclear weapons.