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IAEA's Mohamed ElBaradei says Iran has brought nuclear probe to standstill

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By George Jahn
Friday, November 27, 2009

VIENNA -- The International Atomic Energy Agency probe of Iran's nuclear program is at a dead end because Tehran is not cooperating, the chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Thursday in an unusually blunt expression of frustration four days before he leaves office.

Mohamed ElBaradei also warned that international confidence in Iran's assertions of purely peaceful intent shrank after its belated revelation of a previously secret nuclear facility. And he criticized Iran for not accepting an internationally endorsed plan meant to delay its achieving the ability to make nuclear weapons.

"There has been no movement on remaining issues of concern which need to be clarified for the agency to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," ElBaradei said at the opening session of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors. "We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us."

"Issues of concern" is the IAEA term for indications that Iran has experimented with nuclear weapons programs, including missile-delivery systems and tests of explosives that could serve as nuclear-bomb detonators.

ElBaradei has emphasized the need for talks instead of threats in engaging Iran. He has criticized the United States for invading Iraq on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons program, which has never been proved. That criticism -- and perceived softness on the Iran issue -- has drawn complaints from the United States and its allies that he was overstepping his mandate.

But ElBaradei's comments Thursday left little doubt that he was most unhappy with Iran.

"I am disappointed that Iran has not so far agreed to the original proposal" involving removal of most of Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium, ElBaradei said at the meeting.

The plan, approved by the six world powers negotiating with Iran over the past few months, would commit Tehran to shipping out 70 percent of its enriched uranium for processing into fuel rods for its medical research reactor in Tehran. The arrangement would help allay international fears by removing most of the material that Iran could use to make a nuclear weapon.

It would take more than a year for Tehran to replace the enriched material, meaning it would not be able to make a weapon for at least that long.

Iran says it is enriching only to power a future network of nuclear reactors. But enrichment can also produce fissile warhead material. Iran continues enriching, despite three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions meant to make it freeze that activity and has built an enriched stockpile that could arm two nuclear warheads.

-- Associated Press

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