International Herald Tribune – OSLO The head of United Nations nuclear monitoring agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, warned Iran on Friday to stop hindering an international investigation into its nuclear energy program, which the United States and many other observers suspect is a cover to develop nuclear weapons.
"The international community has begun to lose its patience," ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at a press conference here in advance of a ceremony Saturday at which he and his agency were to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
While denouncing Iran’s repeated delays in accommodating UN nuclear inspectors, ElBaradei said that bringing the mounting crisis to a head – by formally reporting Iran’s history of concealment to the UN Security Council for possible punitive measures, as the United States has urged – could backfire. "Let us not think we should jump the gun and use enforcement," the Egyptian said.
"If you can wiggle your way to cooperation, that is better than the alternative," he said, adding, "As long as we’re moving forward without seeing an imminent threat or a smoking gun, I don’t see what alternatives we have."
ElBaradei took a similar approach before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, when he said inspectors of his agency had turned up no hard evidence to support the Bush administration’s assertion that Saddam Hussein had revived a nuclear weapons program.
The subsequent failure of U.S. troops to find such evidence seemed to vindicate ElBaradei’s patient approach.
Scientists and political analysts said Friday that the case against Iran was harder to dismiss because the existence of a uranium enrichment program there is not in doubt. The question is whether the program, ostensibly for peaceful energy production, will be expanded to make bombs.
"ElBaradei needs a touch of Churchill now," said Paul Leventhal, founding president of the Nuclear Control Institute, a research and advocacy organization in Washington. "He must acknowledge the unique danger of this regime, which is comparable to the rise of Hitler in the 1930s. The Nobel will give him a bully pulpit if he’s prepared to use it. But so far he has put a rosy picture on things in order to avoid a crisis."
The perception of ElBaradei as unhelpful to U.S. policy on both Iraq and Iran was thought to be behind a year-long push by hard-liners in the Bush administration to deny him a third term as director general of the agency.
But when the United States found itself isolated on the matter, it joined in supporting ElBaradei’s re-election this year.