Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Head of UN nuclear agency gloomy on Iran breakthrough

Head of UN nuclear agency gloomy on Iran breakthrough
By Daniel Dombey in London
Published: February 20 2007 02:00 | Last updated: February 20 2007 02:00
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Mohamed ElBaradei has not given up hope that the US and Iran will one day sit down and negotiate their -differences away, but in the much shorter term his prognosis is bleak.

Tomorrow, in his capacity as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, Mr ElBaradei is due to certify that Iran has failed to comply with UN demands to halt sensitive parts of its nuclear programme.

"I will continue to make a last-ditch effort to try to convince them that it is in their interest to find a way to go into negotiations," he told the Financial Times in an interview in London. "If that doesn't happen, and I don't see that it is going to happen overnight, I will have to report negatively."

He adds, however, that there will still be scope for a diplomatic breakthrough until the week of March 5, when the IAEA board meets and the issue is taken out of his hands.

Mr ElBaradei makes little attempt to disguise his lack of enthusiasm for the US's drive to impose more sanctions on Tehran and push the Islamic republic into suspending activity related to uranium enrichment, which can produce both nuclear fuel and weapons grade material.

In December the UN Security Council agreed sanctions on the transfer of -missile and nuclear technology to Iran, and the issue is set to return to New York after Mr ElBaradei's report tomorrow.

"Our experience without exception is that sanctions alone do not work and in most cases radicalise the regime and hurt the people who are not supposed to be hurt," he says. "If you create an environment in which Iran feels isolated, in which Iran is subject to further sanctions, then some of these worst case scenarios could take place, because then you would put the hardliners in the driver's seat."

In his eyes, the suspension of Iran's current "research and development" enrichment activities is no longer the real issue.

Far more important for him is ensuring that Tehran does not install an industrial scale capacity of 3,000 centrifuges - enough to begin producing fissile material for a bomb - within months, further limit the work of UN inspectors, or leave the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

As for the perpetual rumbles that Washington or Israel might yet contemplate the use of force, "even if [the Iranians] were not going to develop a nuclear weapon today, this would be a sure recipe for them to go down that route . . . Go for the military option and then either you'll have a repeat of North Korea [which has developed nuclear weapons] or you have a repeat of Iraq, and these are not our greatest achievements as civilised human beings."

Instead, Mr ElBaradei has been championing the idea of a "time-out" in which both Iran's nuclear programme and the sanctions targeted against it would be put on ice.

He acknowledges that the idea would allow the two sides to act simultaneously, rather than demanding that Tehran must halt enrichment as a precondition for any further steps.

"It's just a question of how to get both sides to the negotiating table while saving face," he says.

"The Iranian issue will only be resolved when the US takes a decision to engage Iran directly . . The nuclear issue is the tip of the iceberg."

Russia expects delay to Tehran reactor

By Neil Buckley in Moscow and Gareth Smyth in Tehran

Russia warned yesterday that the launch of the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr could be delayed because Tehran had fallen behind with payments and because of problems with sourcing some equipment from third countries.

Officials from Russia's atomic energy agency and from Atomstroiexport, the Russian contractor building the station, said Tehran had not made payments for more than a month, after insisting on paying in euros instead of dollars.

Tehran has been shifting transactions to euros, but has also admitted difficulties in raising finance due to western banks and financiers reducing involvement after US pressure.

Bushehr was excluded, at Russian insistence, from December's UN Security Council resolution giving Iran a 60-day deadline, expiring tomorrow, to end its nuclear activities.


Post a Comment

<< Home