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. World impatient over Iran nuclear program: ElBaradei
BEIRUT (AFP) Dec 07, 2005
The world is starting to lose patience with Iran over its nuclear activities but military action is not the solution, the head of the UN's nuclear watchdog said in remarks published Wednesday.

However, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in a second interview that the IAEA has found no "smoking gun" in Iran that would indicate a nuclear weapons program.

Speaking to Arabic daily Al-Hayat, ElBaradei said the global community was worried that Iranian ambitions to enrich uranium could lead to the clerical regime arming itself with nuclear weapons.

"The international community has begun to lose its patience with Iran," he said. But "a military solution is neither conceivable nor desirable. I hope no one is thinking about that, because it would only exacerbate the problem."

He called on Iran to "stop seeking to enrich uranium, because when a state is able to do that, it only needs a few months to produce a nuclear weapon."

He added that there was "an opening for a solution, but this opening cannot be maintained indefinitely."

In comments to the Jerusalem Post, ElBaradei said there was now "lots of speculation" about an Iranian drive to achieve nuclear weapons capability.

But "we try to work on the basis of facts," he said. And the facts are that "we haven't seen a smoking gun in Iran. We haven't seen an underground production enrichment facility. We haven't seen enough materials in Iran, other than gram quantities, to put into a weapon."

Asked about Israel's concerns over Iran going nuclear, and whether Israel might have to resort to force as a last resort to thwart that, ElBaradei made no direct comment.

However, he stressed that the IAEA sought to continue "to work through our verification (process), through our diplomacy."

ElBaradei, who along with the IAEA received this year's Nobel peace prize, said his agency had spent the past three years filling in the "puzzle" of Iran's long-concealed program.

"We have done a lot of the work," and found "most of the pieces" of the puzzle, but there are still "a number of open questions" about that program.

He said Tehran needed to be more transparent and cooperative it it were to "clear" its past. In that vein, he said the IAEA needs access to military sites, the right to interview key people and to see certain vital documents.

He told the Post that "Iran might have the capacity to enrich uranium if it starts the enrichment facilities there. But that's where the international community asks Iran to reconsider, or at least to continue to suspend enrichment, because that brings Iran close (to a nuclear weapons capability)."

In September, the IAEA found Iran in non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, paving the way for the matter to be referred to the UN Security Council if Iran does not halt nuclear fuel work and cooperate fully with an IAEA investigation.

Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is merely designed to meet domestic energy needs.

Britain, France and Germany -- backed by the United States -- argue that the only guarantee Iran will not use its atomic energy drive as a means to acquire the bomb is for the country to totally abandon uranium enrichment activities.

The EU-3 and Iran are expected to meet in the coming weeks, with the Europeans set to press a proposal from Moscow under which Iran's uranium would be enriched only on Russian soil.

If Iran refuses, the issue could be referred to the Security Council.

On Monday, Iran's top nuclear negotiator reiterated that Tehran would not give up its nuclear fuel ambitions, dismissing calls for it to conduct sensitive enrichment work abroad.

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