UN nuclear watchdog again urges ‘timeout’ by both sides on Iran’s nuclear programme

Mohamed ElBaradei briefing the press

6 March 2007 – The head of the United Nations atomic watchdog agency has again called for a “timeout” on the Iranian nuclear issue to allow for talks, with Iran suspending uranium enrichment and the international community suspending sanctions over a programme that Tehran says is for producing energy but which critics maintain is for making nuclear weapons.

“That’s the only way in my view to achieve a durable solution to the issue,” UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told a news conference in Vienna after delivering a report yesterday to his agency’s Board of Governors that noted that Iran had continued enrichment despite a Security Council call that it suspend such activities and the imposition of sanctions.

The Council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States – together with Germany are now considering what further action to take.

Mr. Mr. ElBaradei first issued a call for a timeout in January, with the parties going “immediately to the negotiating table.”

In his report, Mr. ElBaradei said that because of the lack of “the necessary level of transparency and cooperation” from Iran, his agency could not provide assurances that the Iranian nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes, stressing that the issue was in a class of its own because of Tehran’s two decades of undeclared activities in breach of its obligations under Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

At the news conference he repeated his calls for Iran to cooperate fully with IAEA. “This would help a lot in diffusing the emerging crisis about Iran’s programme,” he said.

“It would enable a comprehensive solution that on the one hand guarantees Iran’s right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but at the same time provides the international community with the confidence that is needed after many years of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran about its programme and future direction.”

Meanwhile in New York, the President of the Security Council said officials from the five permanent members – China, France, Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States – were discussing a draft resolution on Iran.

The talk among them is “about how to continue with the negotiated process, while at the same time being ready to increase the pressure should that be necessary,” said Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, which holds the 15-member body’s rotating presidency.

“Right now we understand they are discussing the elements of what would be in the draft if it comes before us,” he said, naming four elements under consideration: a travel ban; greater movement restrictions on either entities or persons; arms exports; and financial arrangements.

On his forthcoming visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Mr. ElBaradei said the focus was twofold. “One, to see how we can normalize relationship between the IAEA and DPRK. The second is to begin to start the modalities for the Agency going back to start the verification process foreseen under the Beijing agreement,” he added.

At the Beijing six-party talks with key partners on the issue, the DPRK last month agreed to shut down and eventually abandon its Yongbyon nuclear facility. The accord envisions the return of IAEA personnel, who were ordered out four years ago when the country withdrew from the NPT.

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