IAEA Head Terms Efforts against Iran Failure

TEHRAN (FNA)- The chief of the world’s nuclear watchdog organization considers five years of US and international efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear progress a failure, as Tehran moves ever closer to fully mastering nuclear technology.

The United Nations Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions to try to get Iran to halt uranium enrichment activities, while the United States and Europe have offered economic and security incentives. Yet Iran continues acquiring nuclear technology.

Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful drive to produce electricity so that the world’s fourth-largest crude exporter can sell more of its oil and gas abroad. The US and its western allies allege that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program while they have never presented corroborative evidence to substantiate their allegations against the Islamic Republic.

Tehran also stresses that the country is pursuing a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.

“We haven’t really moved one inch toward addressing the issues,” said Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. “I think so far the policy has been a failure.”

The 66-year-old Egyptian diplomat and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize laureate also urged world leaders to address broader unease about security, poverty and perceived injustice rather than zero in on narrow security concerns, such as nuclear weapons, LA Times reported.

“Now, I am talking more and more about poverty, HIV/AIDS” and other matters, he told The Times this week during a rare one-on-one interview at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna. The nuclear issue “is the tip of the iceberg.”

Still, atomic energy remains the focus of his UN-related agency and ElBaradei said he felt optimistic about an eventual US-led settlement between Tehran and the West.

He said US President-elect Barack Obama gave him “lots of hope” after he inserted a proposal to abolish all nuclear weapons in the Democratic Party platform and advocated opening diplomatic dialogue with rivals.

“He is ready to talk to his adversaries, enemies, if you like, including Iran, also (North) Korea,” he said, adding that the Bush administration was reluctant to do so.

“To continue to pound the table and say, ‘I am not going to talk to you,’ and act in a sort of a very condescending way – that exaggerates problems.”

During 11 years as head of the agency, ElBaradei has sparred frequently with the Bush administration, which sought unsuccessfully to deny him a third term in 2005. That move was the result of the bitter dispute he had with Washington over its insistence that Iraq had a nuclear program. Its nonexistence vindicated him and earned him and his agency the Nobel.

During the interview, ElBaradei, who is scheduled to retire in about a year, shed his severe public persona, punctuating freewheeling comments about weapons proliferation, world peace and contemporary politics with laughter. He sat surrounded by his collection of African art while wearing a gray pinstriped suit and a bright orange Salvatore Ferragamo tie.

He spoke of possibly living in southern France, where he recently purchased a home.

“It’s nice to try something else,” he said. “All I know is, I think I would like to continue to do public service.”

A New York University law student and professor during the 1970s and ’80s, he closely follows American foreign policy debates. He cited recent opinion pieces in US newspapers, and said he hoped those advocating engagement with Iran, Syria and North Korea would prevail over those arguing for containment and isolation.

Iran is one of the incoming Obama administration’s main foreign policy puzzles.

In retrospect, the sanctions may have led to “more hardening of the position of Iran,” ElBaradei said. “Many Iranians…(are) gathering around the government because they feel that country is under siege.”

One hope of a diplomatic solution, he said, was for the US and Iran to meet to begin talking, not just about nuclear technology but also about grievances that stretch from the 1950s, when the US helped overthrow a democratically elected government, to the present, when Iranian and American surrogates vie for supremacy in several Middle East battlegrounds.

ElBaradei argued for a “grand bargain” between the West and Iran that recognizes Tehran’s role in the region and gives it “the power, the prestige, the influence” it deserves.

As an Egyptian who has spent the bulk of his tenure as IAEA chief grappling with the nuclear ambitions of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya, he has had a unique understanding of the Middle Easterners, he said.

“I am able to communicate to them in their own language,” he said.

He brushed aside the argument of some US analysts who describe Iran as a messianic state determined to obtain nuclear weapons to launch a war against its arch nemesis, Israel.

“When I go to Iran I see . . . that there are all different shades and colors in Iran,” he said. “So Iran is no different than any other country. I mean, they are connected with the rest of the world.”

ElBaradei contended that the best route to avoiding the spread of nuclear weapons is building international trust.

“The system should not be based on, ‘I am powerful militarily,’ ” he said.

“The system should be based on, ‘What contribution do I make to world civilization?’ ”

Tehran has repeatedly said that it considers its nuclear case closed as it has come clean of IAEA’s questions and suspicions about its past nuclear activities.

Analysts believe that the US is at loggerheads with Iran due mainly to the independent and home-grown nature of Tehran’s nuclear technology, which gives the Islamic Republic the potential to turn into a world power and a role model for other third-world countries. Washington has laid much pressure on Iran to make it give up the most sensitive and advanced part of the technology, which is uranium enrichment, a process used for producing nuclear fuel for power plants.

The US attempt to push for stronger Security Council sanctions has been undermined by the country’s own national intelligence estimate, published in late 2007, which said Iran is not pursuing a weapons program.

Washington’s push for additional UN penalties also contradicts reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammed ElBaradei – one in November and the other one in February – which praised Iran’s truthfulness about key aspects of its past nuclear activities and announced settlement of outstanding issues with Tehran.

The February report by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, praised Iran’s cooperation in clearing up all of the past questions over its nuclear program, vindicating Iran’s nuclear program and leaving no justification for any new UN sanctions.

Also in another report to the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors, ElBaradei once again verified Iran’s non-diversion of declared nuclear material, adding that the UN agency has failed to discover any “components of a nuclear weapon” or “related nuclear physics studies” in Iran.

The UN nuclear watchdog has also carried out at least 14 surprise inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites so far, but found nothing to support West’s allegations.

The Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog continues snap inspections of Iranian nuclear sites and has reported that all “declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities.”

The aforementioned reports have made any effort to impose further sanctions on Iran completely irrational.

Observers believe that Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran lost steam due to the growing international vigilance following the said reports.

Many world nations have called the UN Security Council pressure against Iran unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports, stressing that Tehran’s case should be normalized and returned to the UN nuclear watchdog due to the Islamic Republic’s increased cooperation with the agency.

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