Standoff With Iran on Brink Of Escalation, IAEA Chief Says

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The New York Sun

VIENNA, AUSTRIA — A senior American envoy yesterday welcomed progress at talks meant to defuse a standoff over Iran’s nuclear defiance but said the U.N. Security Council still intends to move toward sanctions if Tehran refuses to freeze uranium enrichment.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, meanwhile, called for compromise, warning the standoff was on the brink of escalating.

Six world powers have offered rewards for Tehran if it freezes uranium enrichment and punishments if it does not. On Sunday, Iran said it was ready to consider complying, at least temporarily, with a U.N. Security Council demand that it freeze uranium enrichment.

Expanding on terms of such a possible Iranian compromise, a diplomat familiar with the issue said Tehran was seeking assurances that American military forces would not attack it during any negotiations with six world powers on enrichment and other nuclear issues.

“They are essentially seeking assurances that they would not be bombed while they are talking,” the diplomat said, talking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential information.

Speaking just minutes before the start of his organization’s 35-nation board meeting, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said “the window of opportunity is not very long,” an implicit warning that the standoff was on the brink of escalating, with the U.N.Security Council close to considering sanctions.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rice left the door open yesterday for consideration of what may be a new overture from Iran to bargain with the West over the disputed nuclear program. Still, she predicted U.N. sanctions would follow “if this does not work out.”

Rice said Iran has not put a formal offer on the table, but she did not reject the idea of beginning talks framed by a deadline.

“From our point of view, we have nothing to lose as we work toward a sanctions resolution” at the U.N. if Europeans continue discussions with Iran that might let overall negotiations begin, Ms. Rice said.

Later in the week, the board will review an IAEA report received last month documenting dozens of cases in which Iran delayed attempts by Mr. ElBaradei’s agency to probe Tehran’s nuclear activities. The report formally establishes that Iran ignored an August 31 U.N. Security Council demand to suspend enrichment.

In separate comments inside the meeting, Mr. ElBaradei said his agency could not “provide assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran” — essentially an acknowledgment that he could not guarantee that Tehran did not have a secret weapons program.

Meanwhile, Iran closed down two opposition newspapers yesterday, one of which had recently poked fun at President Ahmadinejad and the way his government has handled nuclear talks.

The New York Sun

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