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Obama openness may help IAEA with Iran

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s stated readiness for dialogue with Iran without preconditions could make Tehran more forthcoming with his agency, the IAEA.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei smiles as he answers questions during a news conference at Cernin Palace in Prague November 11, 2008. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Western powers fear Iran aims to use uranium enrichment to gain the means to make atom bombs. An International Atomic Energy Agency investigation into intelligence allegations that Iran’s programme is not wholly for generating electricity, as it says, has stalled in disputes over the scope of inquiries.

“If there is a direct dialogue between the United States and Iran, I think Iran will be more forthcoming with the agency,” IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said.

“(A) political opening will also convince Iran to work with us to solve remaining technical issues,” he told a news conference in Prague after meeting Czech Foreign Affairs Minister Karel Schwarzenberg.

“That political component of the (Iran) issue requires in my view a direct dialogue with Iran and that’s why I am very encouraged by President-elect Obama’s statement that he is ready to engage Iran in a direct dialogue without preconditions.

“I have a lot of hope if that is a new policy,” said ElBaradei, who has argued against isolating Iran and in favour of a broader deal between it and the United States addressing security and trade issues he sees as underpinning the dispute.

Iran denies seeking nuclear arms but has rejected U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it halt enrichment work. The Council has imposed three sets of limited sanctions on Iran.

Obama had said he wanted tougher U.N. sanctions on Iran if it kept defying the Council but, unlike outgoing President George W. Bush, has said dialogue without preconditions with foes was just as important to resolving the stand-off.

Iranian officials have said Obama’s victory showed Americans wanted a fundamental change from the policies of Bush, who labelled Iran part of an “axis of evil.”

El Baradei said uncertainty about Iran’s future plans was a key concern. “I think right now we have a stalemate in the Iranian situation,” he said.

“We are able to verify all their declared activities, we are able to verify their enrichment programme, which is a good thing. But we are still not able to move forward on clarifying some of the outstanding issues related to alleged studies that could have some linkage to a possible military dimension.”

Iran says its nuclear plans are to make electricity so it can export more oil and gas.

“There is a lot of concern about Iran, not today but about Iran in future... whether once they develop the technology, what are they going to use it for, whether they will go for nuclear weapons,” said ElBaradei.

“That is the concern shared by the Security Council.”

Reporting by Jana Mlcochova and Martin Dokoupil; editing by Mark Heinrich and Tim Pearce