U.S., allies to complain to ElBaradei on Iran

WASHINGTON Tue May 22, 2007 3:21pm EDT

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei answers a question during a news conference at a hotel in Beijing, March 14, 2007. The United States and some European allies plan to complain to ElBaradei about his proposal for Iran to retain some nuclear enrichment activities, a U.S. official said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei answers a question during a news conference at a hotel in Beijing, March 14, 2007. The United States and some European allies plan to complain to ElBaradei about his proposal for Iran to retain some nuclear enrichment activities, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

Credit: Reuters/Claro Cortes IV

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and some European allies plan to complain to the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog about his proposal for Iran to retain some nuclear enrichment activities, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that envoys from the United States and from France, Germany and Britain -- the so-called EU3 -- were expected to visit International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei this week and tell him their concern as major powers seek to persuade Tehran to end uranium enrichment.

The countries' ambassadors to the IAEA plan to give a "demarche", or formal private complaint, that the agency chief's comments "were not helpful," the official said.

ElBaradei has occasionally irked U.S. leaders but his recent comments, including in the New York Times, rankled both American and European officials because they were interpreted as siding with Tehran at a critical time.

He said IAEA inspectors had concluded that Iran is starting to enrich uranium on a much larger scale after solving technical problems.

"We believe they pretty much have the knowledge about how to enrich," the newspaper quoted ElBaradei as saying. "From now, it's simply a question of perfecting that knowledge. People will not like to hear it, but that's a fact."

ElBaradei used that conclusion to argue for a negotiated solution that would allow Iran to retain a limited enrichment program, diplomats said.

"I believe that demand (for enrichment suspension) has been superseded by events," ElBaradei was quoted by the Spanish daily ABC as saying in an interview carried online.

The U.N. Security Council -- with the United States and its European partners in the vanguard -- has pushed through two resolutions demanding that Iran suspend enrichment before entering negotiations and imposing sanctions until it complies.

IAEA inspectors are expected to report on Wednesday that Iran has not only ignored an imminent U.N. deadline to stop enriching uranium but markedly expanded the program, exposing itself to broader sanctions.

ElBaradei says Western powers' strategy of making a halt to enrichment a precondition of talks is out of date. He says they should focus on limiting the program to a level that would pose little risk of yielding atom bombs.