Sat, Feb 04, 2006 - Page 6 News List

IAEA chief says Iran still has time to halt enrichment


The head of the UN's nuclear watchdog on Thursday gave Iran a month to regain the confidence of the international community and avoid Security Council action over its nuclear program as Iran made a last-ditch attempt to prevent a referral yesterday.

Regardless of whether the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to refer Iran's case to the Security Council, the Islamic state still had time to suspend nuclear enrichment, said IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei.

"This situation is critical -- not a crisis -- and there is no imminent threat," ElBaradei told reporters at a Vienna meeting of the top IAEA body to discuss Iran's referral.

"Iran still has until my next report to fully suspend its enrichment activities," he said.

ElBaradei said that referral would send a clear message that Iran must rebuild international confidence: "Whether we report Iran to the council or not, I believe the only way forward is through diplomacy."

The resolution under discussion by the IAEA board of governors was hammered out on Monday when veto powers Russia and China agreed with the US, Britain, France and Germany to have Iran's case referred to the Security Council.

Under the deal, the council would take no action before ElBaradei reports on his assessment of Iran at a March 6 meeting of the IAEA's governing board.

ElBaradei described a Russian plan to enrich uranium on Iran's behalf as a "window of opportunity" for Iran and said the plan would serve as a transitional solution.

"Nobody on the board of governors denies Iran's right to nuclear power," he said. "However, now is not the time to enrich."

As the IAEA meeting got underway in Vienna, Iran continued to appeal to the UN body to stop short of a council referral.

"I request you to use all your good offices and capabilities to prevent initiations of such a harmful process," Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani wrote in a message to ElBaradei.

"There are still remarkable opportunities for a fair resolution of the present dispute," Larijani said, warning the IAEA against an "uneasy and dangerous course."

"This decision [referral] would be the final blow to the confidence of Iran," he warned.

Larijani also reiterated threats to limit IAEA monitoring of nuclear sites and resume all civilian nuclear activities which it had voluntarily suspended.

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