By Emma Thomasson
AMSTERDAM – The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog welcomed on Thursday moves to avert possible U.N. sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programme and appealed for compromise as Iran’s president said he was ready to talk.
ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said he was pleased the U.N. Security Council was holding off from sanctions against Iran as Europeans work on a package of benefits to induce Tehran to cooperate.
“I’m very optimistic. I hope both sides will move away from the war of words, I hope the pitch will go down, I hope people will adopt a cool-headed approach,” he told a news conference at Amsterdam airport. “We need compromises from both sides.”
“I hope that at this stage we will use more carrots before we think of using sticks,” he said. “It is a very good idea that the Security Council is holding its horses.”
Washington and its European allies have been seeking a U.N. Security Council resolution that would oblige Iran to halt all uranium enrichment work or face possible sanctions.
But Russia and China have resisted the move and Washington agreed this week to let the Europeans first devise a package of benefits for Iran in return for cooperating, putting back a decision on a possible resolution for about two weeks.
Iran said any European proposals would have to allow it to enrich uranium for atomic research and development purposes. Tehran says it only wants to produce low-grade enriched uranium to use in atomic power reactors, not the highly enriched uranium needed to make bombs.
“In any new proposal or package, including the EU’s future proposal, suspending Iran’s basic rights, including suspension of enrichment at the level of research and development, is unacceptable,” Hossein Entezami, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, told Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency.
Diplomats say ElBaradei has privately told Western leaders they may have to accept a limited Iranian enrichment programme under IAEA monitoring as it was a matter of national pride and to insist on scrapping it may only bolster Iranian hardliners.
He and other IAEA veterans were also unhappy about the Security Council’s intervention. They fear that a rush to punish Iran before having found hard evidence of bomb-making could drive it out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and force its nuclear project underground.
ElBaradei has said Iran poses “no imminent threat”.
READY FOR DIALOGUE
Entezami said that while Iran had not yet received any new proposals, any suggestions “could be reviewed and discussed”.
During a visit to Indonesia, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also said Iran was “ready to engage in dialogue with anybody”.
He was responding to a question on a letter he sent to U.S. President George W. Bush this week, the first by an Iranian president to his U.S. counterpart since Washington cut ties with Iran in 1980 following Iran’s 1979 revolution.
Washington has dismissed the letter as a diversionary tactic that did not address the problem of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
In an interview broadcast on Indonesia’s Metro television, Ahmadinejad said of Iran’s nuclear programme: “It has nothing to do with nuclear weapons, or military purposes.”
He also said it was “ridiculous” for countries with nuclear arsenals of their own to be pressing Iran to curb its effort to develop nuclear energy. During a speech, Ahmadinejad called Israel a creature of Europe that had no place in the Middle East. He has previously said Israel should be eliminated.
ElBaradei, in The Netherlands to receive an award, said both sides had to move and issues such as security and trade needed to be addressed as well as the question of nuclear energy.
“The more we can go back to the negotiating table, the more we can address grievances from both sides,” he said.
“Iran owes it to the international community to make sure that its programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes. They have work to do with (the) IAEA to clarify outstanding issues. They have confidence building measures to take.”
Ahmadinejad is due to fly to Bali on Friday for a meeting of the Developing Eight group that also includes Indonesia, Nigeria, Malaysia, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Bangladesh. — Reuter