ElBaradei Frets Over Sanctions on Iran

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 18, 2007; 7:47 AM

PARIS -- The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Thursday he was concerned that the U.N. sanctions on Iran could escalate the standoff with Western powers over its suspected weapons program.

Mohamed ElBaradei called for a resumption of negotiations. Only applying pressure, he suggested, could prompt the Islamic republic to follow the path of North Korea, which kicked out U.N. inspectors, pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 and then conducted its first-ever nuclear test last October.

"My priority is to keep Iran inside the system," said the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner, speaking in Paris.

"My worry right now is that each side is sticking to its guns," he said. "The international community "is saying 'sanctions or bust.' Iran is saying 'nuclear enrichment capability or bust' and we need somebody to reach out and be able to find a solution."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week in Europe that now is not the time for the United States to talk to Iran and that Iran appears unready to accept a conditional U.S. offer to join European talks over its nuclear program.

On Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran was prepared for any possibility in the standoff with the West over its controversial nuclear activities.

"Today, with the grace of God, we have gone through the arduous passes and we are ready for anything in this path," state-run television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

France says it is mulling sending an envoy to Tehran for discussions that would focus on Middle East peace, Lebanon and other regional issues rather than the specific question of Iran's nuclear ambitions. But officials at the presidential palace and the Foreign Ministry insist that a decision has not been made and that Iran must first show willingness to negotiate.

ElBaradei, who was to meet later Thursday with France's foreign minister, said: "Any effort by anybody to get the Iranians and the Europeans _ and the Americans in particular _ engaged would be something I welcome.

"The idea that a dialogue is a reward for good behavior I disagree with," he said. "You have to engage. You have to see where they are coming from, their concerns, their paranoia, their obsessions and then try to change hearts and minds.

"I don't think sanctions will resolve the issue ... sanctions in my view could lead to escalation on both sides."

The Security Council imposed limited sanctions to punish Iran for defying a resolution demanding that it suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fissile material to fuel nuclear reactors or, at purer concentrations, the core of nuclear weapons. Iran insists it only wants energy, while Western powers suspect it of seeking nuclear arms.

ElBaradei said the pressure has failed to break a consensus in Iran that the oil-rich nation needs to master the complex process of uranium enrichment. Iran this week said it is moving toward large-scale enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material.

He also suggested that any military strike of Iranian nuclear facilities would ultimately not thwart its ambitions. "What we know is that Iran has the knowledge, but you cannot bomb knowledge," he said.

ElBaradei's said three to four years of intensive inspections in Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency that he heads have not found indications of any undeclared nuclear facilities. But "we never are able to provide 100 percent guarantees," he added.

© 2007 The Associated Press