IAEA urges sticking to talks with North Korea, Iran

BEIJING Mon Apr 20, 2009 3:50pm EDT

1 of 5. South Korean soldiers stand guard on the south side of the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas in Paju,north of Seoul, April 20, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak

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BEIJING (Reuters) - U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said on Monday more talk and deeper trust were needed to defuse nuclear disputes with North Korea and Iran, and urged Washington to stick to dialogue with both states.

ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he hoped North Korea, which expelled IAEA monitors last week, would soon invite them back and avoid confrontation, and that Iran would reciprocate recent friendly U.S. overtures by opening its nuclear activities to broader inspections.

"The only way to resolve these issues is not through flexing muscles," said ElBaradei. He was speaking at a news conference in Beijing during an international meeting on nuclear energy policy.

He praised U.S. President Barack Obama's administration for backing dialogue with Tehran and holding out the hope of renewed six-party nuclear disarmament talks with Pyongyang, which recently launched a long-range rocket, drawing U.N. censure.

"I'm optimistic about the new environment," ElBaradei said of Obama's opening to Iran and calls to eventually end nuclear arms.

The IAEA cannot directly broker negotiations over the nuclear disputes with North Korea and Iran. But ElBaradei's comments may bolster calls for patience and negotiations.

"There is no other solution apart from dialogue," ElBaradei said of North Korea, adding he hoped six-party talks, joining the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, Russian and host China -- talks North Korea has branded useless -- would resume.

"We need to find a solution before (the North Koreans) begin building again their nuclear power arsenal. The longer we have this hiatus, the worse for the international community," he said.

The IAEA monitors left North Korea last week after being ordered out by Pyongyang, which has raised regional tensions by saying it will abandon the six-party talks and restart the aged Yongbyon nuclear complex it had agreed to shut in an aid-for-disarmament deal reached by those talks.

The IAEA was invited to monitor the moribund complex, which includes a reprocessing plant that makes plutonium that can be used for nuclear weapons.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket on April 5.

CRY FOR ATTENTION

The launch and subsequent pulling out of six-party talks are seen by analysts as a cry for attention and further leveraging for concessions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit North Korea on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the launch and recent nuclear threats, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

North and South Korea will have rare talks on Tuesday to discuss a joint factory park in the North, where the communist state has held a South Korean worker or about three weeks after he supposedly made derogatory comments about the North's leaders.

ElBaradei also called on Iran to reciprocate U.S. overtures.

"The Americans took the first step. I hope the Iranians will reciprocate, and if we continue to move in the right direction then, yes, we should be able to find a solution," he said.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said this month they would ask EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to invite Iran to a meeting to find "a diplomatic solution" to the long-running dispute.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said Iran was "finalizing" its response.

"There has been contradictory statements made by members of this group (six powers) but it was quite clear that the condition stipulated by the Islamic Republic of Iran calling for unconditional talks based on justice, mutual respect ... has been emphasized by us on several occasions," he said in Tehran."

The IAEA has wrestled with Tehran over its nuclear ambitions, especially its efforts to enrich uranium, which can be a route to refining the fissile material for atomic weapons.

Iran says it is developing enrichment technology for peaceful energy use. ElBaradei said Tehran could build on the opening from Washington by agreeing to more thorough inspections by the IAEA.

Iranian officials at the nuclear conference in Beijing said it was up to Western powers, especially the United States, to shift their position on Iran's nuclear program.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, said his government was frustrated with what he called the politicization of the IAEA. As for the United States, he said: "They have to change their fundamental foreign policy."

The vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Saeidi, referring to scope for compromise on enrichment, said Western countries would need a "new approach."

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Seoul and Fredrik Dahl in Tehran; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jerry Norton)