Reuters: The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday that it was up to Iran to ensure a diplomatic resolution of its nuclear standoff with the West, which suspects Tehran is secretly developing atomic weapons. By Louis Charbonneau
BERLIN, March 31 (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday that it was up to Iran to ensure a diplomatic resolution of its nuclear standoff with the West, which suspects Tehran is secretly developing atomic weapons.
The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a statement on Wednesday calling on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme, which can produce fuel for atomic power plants or weapons, and asked the U.N.’s Vienna-based nuclear agency to report back on Tehran’s compliance in 30 days.
“I see the Security Council statement as an extension of diplomacy,” Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told Reuters in a telephone interview from the Qatari capital Doha.
“The focus at this stage should be on finding a diplomatic solution through transparency and cooperation by Iran to build the necessary confidence and to create the conditions for the return to negotiations with the international community.”
Iran says it is only interested in peaceful nuclear power and does not want atomic weapons. But it concealed sensitive atomic fuel activities from the IAEA for nearly 20 years.
ElBaradei has been unable to verify that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful and has called on Tehran to provide answers to a number of outstanding questions about the Islamic republic’s past atomic activities.
The European Union’s three biggest nations — Germany, France and Britain — called off 2-1/2 years of talks with Iran after it announced in January that it would resume enrichment work and shortly thereafter resumed small-scale purification of uranium.
TEHRAN SAYS SOVEREIGN RIGHT
The so-called EU3 has made a re-suspension of enrichment a condition for the renewal of talks, but Tehran has refused, saying enrichment is a sovereign right it will never abandon.
ElBaradei said the only way to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran was peacefully and at the negotiating table.
“I do hope we can avoid sanctions and escalation,” said ElBaradei, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner. “I continue to believe a durable solution could only be achieved through dialogue and diplomacy.”
Britain says that Iran could eventually face sanctions if it does not heed the Security Council’s demands.
At a forum in Doha, ElBaradei was asked if he thought sanctions were a bad idea.
“Sanctions will hurt everybody,” he said in his answer. “Iran will retaliate and I hope very much we can avoid that.”
But Washington has hinted that an escalation of the crisis was possible if Iran remains defiant.
A senior U.S. State Department official said after Thursday’s meeting of the five permanent Security Council members and Germany in Berlin that the participants did not raise the issue of possible military action against Iran.
“We are on a diplomatic track but we have not taken any option off the table,” the official said, declining to be named.
(Additional reporting by Odai Sirri in Doha)