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. Iran will resume nuclear talks, but questions persist: IAEA chief
MOSCOW (AFP) Oct 05, 2005
Iran is likely to resume talks on its nuclear program with three EU countries soon but must still answer questions to allay fears it wants to build nuclear weapons, the UN nuclear watchdog said Wednesday.

"I am optimistic that in the coming months we will see a resumption of these negotiations," Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said at a meeting here on nuclear safety issues.

He described the suspension of talks between Tehran and the "EU-3" -- Britain, France and Germany -- as a temporary "hiccup" and said both sides needed to find "a face-saving solution" to restart negotiations on the Islamic state's nuclear program.

Those talks were suspended in August after Tehran announced it was resuming uranium conversion work in defiance of an agreement last year with the EU team.

The European Union and the United States fear that Iran could use a fledgling nuclear program that it says is purely for civilian energy purposes to develop nuclear weapons, and have called on Tehran to abandon all work related to uranium enrichment.

Iran counters it has the right to develop civilian nuclear power in all its aspects, including the enrichment of uranium to a level sufficient for use as nuclear fuel.

But it agreed in February to return all spent nuclear fuel to Russia for processing under international supervision.

Addressing an annual board meeting of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a US-Russian private program that promotes nuclear disarmament and safety, ElBaradei admitted that there was currently no actual law making it a criminal offense for a state to develop nuclear weapons.

But, he said, "we cannot continue to have a dissemination of fuel-cycle activities" because with every new state that acquires nuclear weapons the risk of nuclear conflict multiplies.

Iran's aspiration to develop civilian nuclear energy is legitimate but requires close supervision, ElBaradei said, and the best way to ensure this was to "multinationalize" the process and give countries that want to develop nuclear power incentives to abide by guidelines.

ElBaradei outlined an international program to keep these countries in check by guaranteeing nuclear fuel supplies, imposing a moratorium on uranium enrichment and creating a "a robust early-warning system" for states that try to cheat.

Compliance with the rules, he said, should be enforced by the UN Security Council, but he described this body as a "court of last resort" with a "checkered" past in ensuring that states respect international nuclear regulatory measures.

Earlier Wednesday, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported that one of the country's most prominent diplomats, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the country's UN ambassador who is also widely regarded as a moderating influence, had resigned as a member of Tehran's nuclear negotiation team.

But though Tehran has taken a tougher stance against Western efforts to verify its nuclear program since hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in June, ElBaradei cited advances in knowledge of that program.

"We are making good progress in understanding the nature of the program," he said.

"But there is still a number of outstanding issues that we have not resolved. Until we resolve these issues... we cannot say it is a strictly peaceful" program as Tehran insists, ElBaradei said.

He added however: "I recently got an assurance from the new leadership in Iran that they will continue to work with us."

Russia, which is helping Iran build its first nuclear power station, is "trying to see what is the best tactic" to use with Tehran but agrees with other IAEA members that the overall goal is to make sure Iran does not attempt to acquire nuclear weapons, he said.

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