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. UN nuclear chief ElBaradei welcomes US overtures to Iran
WASHINGTON, Feb 1 (AFP) Feb 01, 2009
UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei in an interview published Sunday welcomed recent overtures by US President Barack Obama to engage Iran in talks on its nuclear program.

ElBaradei called in an interview with the Washington Post for "a direct dialogue" between Iran and the United States, to encourage "trust-building" between the two nations.

"You're not going to have trust unless you have a direct dialogue. President Obama is saying he's ready to have a direct dialogue without preconditions, based on mutual respect. I say this is absolutely overdue," ElBaradei told the newspaper.

Experts have said that even before winning November's presidential election, Obama began to engage in "track two" discussions to approach America's foes in the Middle East, including Iran.

In an interview last week, Obama said the United States would offer Iran an extended hand of diplomacy if the Islamic Republic's leaders "unclenched their fist."

ElBaradei told The Post that diplomatic efforts to compel Iranian cooperation have been ineffective.

"Iran was cooperating even more before," he said."They cut the cooperation ... when they were taken to the Security Council in 2005."

He added: "I have said for the past six years that the policy of building trust between the West (and the United States in particular) and Iran has failed completely. We haven't moved one iota," he said.

ElBaradei also praised his agency's efforts to shed light on Iran's atomic program, which it long has claimed is civilian in nature, but which some countries believe aims to develop nuclear weapons.

"We have done as much as we can do in Iran to make sure that we understand the history and the present status of their program, to try to push them as far as we can within our authority to come clean," ElBaradei told the daily.

He added: "I am very proud that within the limited authority we have, we have been able to understand the scope of the most sensitive part of the Iranian program, which is the enrichment program, which is now under complete agency inspection."

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