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'Iran not an imminent threat'

The agency chief ElBaradei said it's a critical phase but not a crisis situation.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2006 01:38 IST

Iran's nuclear programme is not an "imminent threat," the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Thursday.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) met to hear a call to haul the Islamic Republic before the UN Security Council.

The agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran needed to do "confidence building" but that the international crackdown on Tehran's nuclear ambitions, which the United States says involves making atomic weapons, "is not about an imminent threat. I should make that very clear."

"We are reaching a critical phase but it is not a crisis situation," ElBaradei told reporters.

Western intelligence estimates say Iran is from several years to a decade away from being able to make a nuclear weapon, something Tehran denies it intends.

Iran set off the current crisis on January 10 when it moved ahead on work on enriching uranium, a process that makes fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors but can also produce atom bomb material.

The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors is debating a European Union draft resolution to report Iran to the UN Security Council, calling on it to suspend all nuclear fuel work and to cooperate fully with a now three-year-old IAEA investigation into its nuclear programme.

The resolution is a compromise to Iranian ally Russia's demands as it allows for a month-long pause before the Council can move ahead on any action, which could include punitive sanctions.

"I think what the board is trying to do is to send a very clear message to Iran but also to provide a window of opportunity" for diplomacy, ElBaradei said.

The message is that "Iran needs to take more confidence-building measures," such as suspending enrichment and other nuclear fuel work, he added.

He said full cooperation by Iran could lead to the Security Council backing off from sanctions.

ElBaradei said that in speeches on Thursday board members had made clear that the goal "is simply a continuation of diplomacy by having the council lend its weight to the agency's effort, to my effort, and everybody is stressing renewing the commitment to negotiation," ElBaradei said, referring to now broken-off talks between Iran and the EU.

There is a "window of opportunity until I submit my report in March," ElBaradei said, referring to a report on Iran's cooperation with the watchdog's investigation that is to be filed before the next IAEA board meeting on March 6.

"Nobody is questioning Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy but they are really saying at this stage, when there are still question marks about Iran's programme that Iran should not engage and should exercise restraint on engaging in enrichment which is a very sensitive technology and could lead to nuclear weapons," ElBaradei said.

First Published: Feb 02, 2006 14:19 IST