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. IAEA chief warns against isolation of Iran, North Korea
KYOTO, Japan, Dec 3 (AFP) Dec 03, 2006
UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Sunday warned against the diplomatic isolation of North Korea and Iran, saying confrontation would only lead them to accelerate their nuclear programs.

Diplomacy was key to dealing with both countries, he said, although Iran's case was different since, unlike North Korea, there was no evidence that it had yet acquired the capacity to develop nuclear arms.

Even if Iran intends to develop an atom bomb, intelligence suggests they are still four to nine years away from doing so, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency told a seminar at Kyoto University in western Japan.

"That means we still have enough time for diplomacy. We need to reintegrate them into the international community and gradually try to change the hearts and minds in Iran through a process of reintegration," he said.

North Korea came under fresh sanctions after testing an atom bomb on October 9, while Iran also faces threats of punitive measures for refusing to freeze nuclear enrichment.

"We should not talk about changing the government in Iran. We should not talk about use of military force in Iran, because the more you talk about that the more the Iranians or the (North) Koreans will feel threatened and will continue to accelerate their nuclear weapon program," ElBaradei warned.

The UN nuclear watchdog chief argued that sanctions alone would not resolve the Iran or North Korea situations.

"I've always said that sanctions alone will never resolve a conflict. In many cases sanctions harden the resolve of a country," he said.

"You have, in addition to sanctions, to provide incentives. You have to work with a stick and a carrot."

The US and Japan led a drive that imposed further sanctions on the North after its nuclear test.

Washington has also called for UN sanctions against Iran in response to its sensitive nuclear work. But Russia and China have been more cautious.

ElBaradei arrived in Japan last week partly for talks on North Korea and met Thursday with Japan's outspoken Foreign Minister Taro Aso, who last week said Tokyo was able to produce nuclear weapons if it chose to do so.

ElBaradei, however, told the seminar that it would be a "terrible mistake" for Japan or any other country to develop nuclear weapons.

"If Japan were to go for nuclear weapons we would have to look at South Korea, Taiwan and eventually everybody in the region" also possibly acquiring atomic arms," he added.

"I always look at Japan as a torch holder for nuclear disarmament," ElBaradei said, adding that Japan's history as the only country to have been attacked with nuclear weapons meant it had a "moral responsibility".

He added, however, that he had been assured by Japanese government officials that Tokyo had no intention of abandoning its long standing policy against nuclear weapons.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ruled out even discussing building nuclear weapons, but the issue has caused concern in neighboring countries haunted by Japan's past aggression.

Japan is the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack. US nuclear bombs obliterated the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing days of World War II, killing more than 210,000 people.

On Monday ElBaradei heads to China, where two days of meetings last week involving US and North Korean envoys failed to set a date for the next round of stalled six-nation talks on halting Pyongyang's nuclear program.

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