WASHINGTON — The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Sunday he had no evidence Iran was working actively to build nuclear weapons and expressed concern that escalating rhetoric from the U.S. could bring disaster.
"We have information that there has been maybe some studies about possible weaponization," said Mohamed ElBaradei, who leads the International Atomic Energy Agency. "That's why we have said that we cannot give Iran a pass right now, because there is still a lot of question marks.
"But have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iran this month of "lying" about the aim of its nuclear program. She said there is no doubt Tehran wants the capability to produce nuclear weapons and has deceived the IAEA about its intentions.
Vice President Dick Cheney has raised the prospect of "serious consequences" if Iran were found to be working toward developing a nuclear weapon. Last week, the Bush administration announced harsh penalties against the Iranian military and state-owned banking systems in hopes of raising pressure on the world financial system to cut ties with Tehran.
‘We cannot add fuel to the fire’
ElBaradei said he was worried about the growing rhetoric from the U.S., which he noted focused on Iran's alleged intentions to build a nuclear weapon rather than evidence the country was actively doing so. If there is actual evidence, ElBaradei said he would welcome seeing it.
"I'm very much concerned about confrontation, building confrontation, because that would lead absolutely to a disaster. I see no military solution. The only durable solution is through negotiation and inspection," he said.
"My fear is that if we continue to escalate from both sides that we will end up into a precipice, we will end up into an abyss. As I said, the Middle East is in a total mess, to say the least. And we cannot add fuel to the fire," ElBaradei added.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, agreed that the current "hot rhetoric" from the U.S. could prove dangerous.
"We ought to make it clear that there's always a military option if Iran goes nuclear, but that we ought to just speak more softly because these hot words that are coming out of the administration, this hot rhetoric plays right into the hands of the fanatics in Iran," said Levin, D-Mich.
‘We're sending mixed signals’
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said strong action might be needed because he does not believe the United Nations adequately has kept Iran in check.
"I think the United Nations' efforts to sanction Iran have been pitiful because of Russia and China vetoing a resolution. The European Union has some sanctions. They're fairly weak."
"So in this regard, I agree with the following, that the diplomatic efforts to control Iran need to continue. They need to be more robust but we're sending mixed signals," Graham said.
ElBaradei spoke on CNN's "Late Edition," and Levin and Graham appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation."
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