Sanctions could escalate Iran standoff: ElBaradei

By Francois Murphy
Thursday, January 18, 2007; 4:15 PM

PARIS (Reuters) - The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said on Thursday sanctions against Iran could escalate a standoff over its nuclear program and called for a new impetus to break the deadlock.

Last month the U.N. Security Council approved limited sanctions against Iran due to Tehran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, which can yield fuel for power plants or bombs.

Iran vehemently denies charges it is seeking nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian atomic program. But it was referred to the Security Council last year for failing to convince the world that its aims are entirely peaceful.

"I don't think sanctions will resolve the issue. I think sanctions, in my view, could lead to escalation on both sides," ElBaradei said as guest speaker at a meeting in Paris.

The new sanctions ban transfers of sensitive nuclear materials and know-how to Iran. The U.N. resolution set a 60-day deadline for Iran to halt nuclear fuel work. If it does not, the Security Council could weigh broader, tougher sanctions.

Six of the world's top powers -- the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany -- have told Iran they are prepared to discuss exchanging a package of incentives for curbs to its enrichment program, if it suspends enrichment first.

But ElBaradei, who along with his International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, said such talks should not be a reward.

"The idea that a dialogue is a reward for good behavior, I disagree with that. A dialogue is a prerequisite for changing behavior," he said ahead of a meeting later on Thursday with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.


Iran said this week it was pressing ahead with a plan to install 3,000 centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, with the aim of achieving industrial-scale nuclear fuel production.

"My worry right now is that each side is sticking to their gun if you like. The international community is sticking to their gun, saying 'sanctions or bust'. Iran is saying 'nuclear enrichment capability or bust'," ElBaradei said.

"We need somebody to reach out and be able to find a solution."

After three years of IAEA inspections of Iran's nuclear program, ElBaradei says the jury is still out on whether the program is entirely peaceful.

He added, however, that he agreed with an assessment by U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte that Iran, which has so far enriched token amounts of uranium in a small number of centrifuges, could produce a nuclear bomb in 4-9 years.

"I read that implicitly to mean that they don't have undeclared facilities right now because if they do, then the time span will be shorter," he said.

With Iran aiming for industrial-scale enrichment, ElBaradei said he was concerned the Islamic republic would follow North Korea's example and leave the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty before declaring that it had a nuclear bomb.

"I hope that ... we will not see a repeat of North Korea."

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