UN nuclear chief wants direct US-Iran dialogue but US says time not right
WASHINGTON (AFP) Mar 17, 2004
UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei is pushing on a visit to Washington for direct talks between Iran and the United States but a US spokesman said Wednesday that the time is not yet right for this.

"He did mention an interest in seeing a (US) dialogue with Iran," California representative Adam Schiff told reporters after the House subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia grilled International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general ElBaradei for over an hour Wednesday.

ElBaradei, whose agency is investigating whether Iran's nuclear program is peaceful or if it is secretly trying to develop atomic weapons, refused to comment on his talks in Washington but said: "I'm always in favor of dialogue."

The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 1979, shortly after hostages were taken by Iran from the US embassy.

ElBaradei told US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage on Tuesday that it was "important for the United States to talk to the Iranians," an official close to the talks said.

ElBaradei said there were "signals from Iran that Tehran is ready on this nuclear issue to talk" to the United States, according to the official.

But State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said Wednesday that speculation about a US-Iran dialogue was "misplaced."

He said that "the best way to deal with that (nuclear) program is through the IAEA and that process is working well up to now."

Ereli said Washington has "always made clear that we are willing to engage with Iran on specific issues of mutual concern in an appropriate manner."

"The fact is that Iran knows what those issues of concern are (terrorism, nuclear programme, support for terrorist groups). We haven't seen movement on any of those things, therefore the talk about a dialogue, I think, is misplaced," Ereli said.