Iran Nuclear NewsNuke watchdog defends Iran deal

Nuke watchdog defends Iran deal

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Washington Times: The United Nations’ top nuclear cop yesterday slammed critics of a new inspection deal with Iran as “back-seat drivers” trying to justify a war with Tehran in the same way they cleared a path for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Washington Times

By David R. Sands

The United Nations’ top nuclear cop yesterday slammed critics of a new inspection deal with Iran as “back-seat drivers” trying to justify a war with Tehran in the same way they cleared a path for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, named no names in a briefing for reporters at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria. But his harsh words reflected the depth of suspicion and distrust between the Egyptian diplomat and critics in the United States, both inside and outside the Bush administration.

Pleading for time to allow a new Iranian inspection plan to work, Mr. ElBaradei said, “I hear war drums that are basically saying that the solution is to bomb Iran. It makes me shudder because some of the rhetoric is a reminder” of the run-up to the Iraq war.

“There have been back-seat drivers putting in their five cents saying this is not a good working arrangement,” he said, according to an account by the Reuters news agency.

“I tell them: Please, leave the driving to us and we will let you know where we are in November.”

The official U.S. response to the IAEA chief’s comments was measured, but U.S. officials also made it clear that Iran must do far more than meet the IAEA’s goals to put to rest questions about its suspect nuclear programs.

“I would certainly hope that [Mr. ElBaradei’s”> comments would not refer to the United States, because they certainly wouldn’t be true,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.

Mr. Casey and the U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, said they back the IAEA’s efforts to clear up “historical” questions about Iran’s secret nuclear programs. But they added that the United States and its allies still demand that Iran suspend key activities, such as uranium enrichment, or face new international sanctions.

Mr. Schulte said late last month that the IAEA inspection agreement with Tehran has “real limitations” because key military and manufacturing sites inside the Islamic republic would not be covered.

Mr. ElBaradei has U.S. critics outside the Bush administration as well. A Washington Post editorial this week dubbed him a “rogue regulator” who is “undermining” the U.S.-led effort to curb Iran’s nuclear programs.

Yesterday, Mr. ElBaradei said the U.S. press was rushing to discredit him.

“If you look at some of the American newspapers today, there is a coordinated, orchestrated campaign to undermine the process, undermine the agency, undermine me,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

The Bush administration and Mr. ElBaradei had some tense exchanges before the Iraq war over the extent of dictator Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons programs. The IAEA could not verify U.S. claims of a major Iraqi nuclear effort, and postwar analyses largely upheld the U.N. agency’s work.

The United States briefly tried to block Mr. Elbaradei’s reappointment to the IAEA post in 2005, but found no support from the nearly three dozen nations that sit on the Vienna agency’s board.

Meeting with a small group of reporters in Vienna yesterday, Mr. ElBaradei said his inspectors have uncovered little so far to back up charges Iran has developed a military nuclear capability. Iranian officials say their program is designed for peaceful energy uses.

“We have not seen any weaponization of their program, nor have we received any information to that effect — no smoking gun or information from intelligence,” Mr. ElBaradei said.

Mr. ElBaradei suggested yesterday that critics should give his inspectors until the end of the year to do their work.

“This is a reasonable time in our view to resolve a number of complex issues,” he said.

But Jacqueline Shire and David Albright, nuclear specialists at the private Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, said in an Aug. 30 report that the IAEA inspection deal signed with Iran on Aug. 27 is “limited in scope” in a number of key areas.

“The IAEA has also not been able to determine whether Iran has undeclared nuclear facilities,” they wrote. “Iran may be installing centrifuges at a secret, undeclared plant.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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