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Nuclear watchdog: Iran is fully cooperating

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday that Iran is fully cooperating with his agency, and that the assessment will not be damaged despite a two-week suspension.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran is fully cooperating with nuclear inspectors after barring scrutiny of its facilities for two weeks, the head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency said Wednesday at the White House after meeting with President Bush.

Still, Bush expressed concern about Iran’s program, said Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“My answer is that the jury is still out,” ElBaradei said. “We would like to continue to work hard on inspecting Iran before we come to a conclusion.”

After meeting with Bush for about 45 minutes, ElBaradei said he hoped he would have a more definitive assessment of Iran’s nuclear activities by June, when he is due to give his next report to the IAEA Board of Governors.

Iran suspended inspections last weekend after the U.N. agency adopted a resolution deploring recent discoveries of uranium enrichment equipment and other suspicious activities that Iran had failed to reveal. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Hasan Rowhani, had described the IAEA resolution as “unfair and deceitful.”

Though ElBaradei called the two-week suspension “regrettable” and “a bad precedent,” he said the inspection that was postponed was not time-sensitive and thus probably didn’t offer Iran an opportunity to hide anything. And now, he said, Iran is “back on track.”

U.N. inspectors are due to return to Iran on March 27.

Quest for nuclear energy?
“I think today Iran is cooperating fully,” ElBaradei said. “I expect them to be fully cooperative, to be fully transparent, to provide all information in the most detailed manner. ... We need 100 percent cooperation.”

Iran says its nuclear activities are designed to generate electricity. The Bush administration suspects Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

“There certainly is no reason why they need to have nuclear energy given all their vast oil and gas resources,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. “So we continue to have concerns about their behavior and about their nuclear program.”

ElBaradei seemed to endorse Bush’s recent call for a ban on allowing any additional countries to acquire the ability to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel for plutonium — even if the stated intent is to build civilian nuclear power facilities.

“We believe there is enough supply in the world that we do not like to see many other countries developing reprocessing capability, enrichment capability, provided that we provide assurance of supply,” ElBaradei said.

U.S.-IAEA work on relationship
His White House visit came after Bush gave a speech at the National Defense University last month in which the president singled out the IAEA for criticism. Bush called for the creation of a special committee to focus on safeguards and verification and to ensure that nations comply with international obligations, and he complained that nations such as Iran have been allowed to sit on the IAEA board of governors.

The agency is seen as ineffective by many in the administration who cite its failure to stop weapons programs in Libya, North Korea and other countries.

Separately, ElBaradei said he was pleased with what he has heard during his Washington stay on the intelligence the United States is willing to provide the inspectors. At a meeting Tuesday with CIA Director George Tenet, he said he received “assurance that the agency will get as much intelligence as we can get from the CIA and other intelligence agencies.”

“We all understand that we need intelligence, we need resources, we need technology for us to do a good job,” he said.