No evidence Iran is making nuclear weapons: ElBaradei
by Jitendra JoshiSun Oct 28, 12:29 PM ET
Chief UN atomic watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei said Sunday he had no evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons and accused US leaders of adding "fuel to the fire" with recent bellicose rhetoric.
"I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now," the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency told CNN.
"Even if Iran were to be working on a nuclear weapon ... they are at least a few years from having such a weapon," he said, citing assessments by US officials themselves.
"At this stage we need to continue to work through creative diplomacy ... as I don't see any other solution than diplomacy and inspections," ElBaradei said.
The White House Friday rejected any parallels between its Iran rhetoric and the run-up to the Iraq invasion, after fresh sanctions on Tehran and escalating US warnings fueled comparisons to the months before the 2003 invasion.
"We are absolutely committed to a diplomatic process," spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters.
"We would never take options off the table, but the diplomatic process is what we want to move forward with," he said, calling it "unwise" to rule out the use of force.
His comments came as US President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been sharply ramping up their rhetoric about Iran, leading some critics to draw parallels with the late 2002 verbal escalation against Iraq.
In recent months, Bush has predicted "nuclear holocaust" and "World War III" if Tehran gets atomic weapons, while Cheney has warned of "serious consequences" for Iran if it defies global demands to freeze uranium enrichment -- echoing the UN resolution that Washington says authorized war in Iraq.
ElBaradei said if the United States had more information on Iran's nuclear drive than the IAEA, "I would be very happy to receive it and go forward."
He said "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," he said.
Merely "exchanging rhetoric" would not resolve the Iranian nuclear case, ElBaradei said, pointing to ongoing negotiations with North Korea as an example of dealing with the Islamic republic.
Under six-nation talks, North Korea has agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs in return for a broad package of economic and diplomatic incentives.
ElBaradei said it is time "to stop spinning and hyping the Iranian issue," warning that military force could spark a global "conflagration."
"It could even accelerate a drive by Iran, even if they are not working on a nuclear weapon today, to go for a nuclear weapon," the IAEA chief added.
"So we can talk about use of force if and when we exhausted diplomacy ... but we are far, far away from that stage."
The six major powers involved in talks about Iran's nuclear program will meet in Europe in early November to discuss strengthened UN sanctions against Tehran, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack announced Friday.
Political directors from the foreign ministries of France, Britain, Russia, China, Germany and the United States will meet "toward the end of next week," McCormack told reporters.
Diplomatic sources said the meeting could take place Friday in London.