The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency called on Iran yesterday to hand over more documents relating to its nuclear program and make up for a lack of confidence created by years of concealment.
But Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also welcomed some recent cooperation by Iran and stressed that there was no proof the Islamic republic is trying to build nuclear weapons, as the Bush administration has said.
The mixed assessment at the opening day of this week's IAEA meeting in Vienna comes as the White House considers whether to help a diplomatic track between Europe and Iran. France, Britain and Germany have been negotiating with Tehran and want the United States to support offering incentives in exchange for Tehran's surrender of any ability to develop a nuclear weapon.
U.S. officials, who discussed strategy on the condition of anonymity, said the new considerations meant the administration would not use this week's board meeting in Vienna as a way to ratchet up international pressure on Iran.
For the past two years, the White House has lobbied other board members to send Iran's case to the U.N. Security Council, which can pass resolutions to impose sanctions or an oil embargo on Iran. But France, Britain and Germany have said they would block such attempts as long as their talks with Iran continue.
"It is clear the Europeans have undertaken not to support a resolution against Iran unless things progress in a bad direction," one U.S. official said. "So our position is based on trying to give the European initiative a chance to bear fruit or collapse."
The official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity, said the administration has yet to determine how long it is willing to wait before judging the talks. But publicly the administration suggested it is prepared to give the Europeans time.
"I would simply say that at this point in time, given where things are, there is not a basis to debate what actions to take with Iran," State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli said. "We talked about it in previous meetings. We'll probably talk about it in future meetings. But at this meeting, at this time, there is, I think, a consensus view that we don't have the kind of information and we're not at the stage in dealing with Iran that we want to have that kind of a discussion." Much will depend on the IAEA's investigation of Iran.
ElBaradei confirmed a report in Sunday's Washington Post that Iran had recently provided investigators a copy of a 1987 offer from Pakistan for the makings of a weapons program.
"The offer was extensive, but [Iran] indicated that they did not, obviously, take these people up on the entirety of the offer," said ElBaradei, who welcomed Iran's cooperation on the issue but said the agency needed to further explore both the details and Iran's assertions.
The agency began investigating Iran more than two years ago after Iranian exiles exposed a secret nuclear facility. The inquiry helped lead to discovery of a nuclear black market run out of Pakistan that supplied Iran with designs and equipment for enriching uranium, a key ingredient for nuclear weapons.
The same equipment could be used, however, for a nuclear energy program, and Iran insists its effort is aimed only at producing energy. The United States worries that Tehran's efforts are a cover for a weapons program.
The three European powers share U.S. concerns but believe diplomacy is the only way to persuade Iran to give up the nuclear weapons option. The Europeans argued their case to President Bush when he was in Europe last week.
On her way to London for an international conference on the Palestinians, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that Bush is "looking at what he thinks might be necessary to support European diplomacy, but he hasn't made any decisions."
Rice said she will have follow-up talks during her brief London visit with her counterparts from the three European countries that are engaged with Iran. But she said there is no timeline for a decision or response.
"We are considering, the president is considering, what options he might have to support the European efforts to get the Iranians to live up to their international obligations and to not seek a nuclear weapon under cover of a civilian nuclear program," Rice said.
ElBaradei said Iran's promises to Europe so far are being honored, and he said the investigation into the country's past activities is progressing well. But he said Iran needs to do more to clear its name.
"In view of the past undeclared nature of significant aspects of Iran's nuclear program, a confidence deficit has been created, and it is therefore essential that Iran works closely with the agency in a proactive manner in order for us to build the necessary confidence and achieve the required degree of assurance," he said yesterday.
Staff writer Robin Wright contributed to this report from London.