El-Baradei told the conference, sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, that he is encouraged Iran allowed inspectors to visit the Parchin military site, suspected of housing a nuclear-weapons research program.
But he called yesterday for further confidence-building measures from Iran, such as permitting inspectors to visit the Lavizan nuclear site.
“There are still some important issues about the extent of the enrichment program, but we are moving in the right direction; and the earlier Iran would allow us through transparency measures to do all that we need the better, of course, for everybody, including Iran,” el-Baradei said.
Iran has said it is pursuing only peaceful uses of nuclear energy, as allowed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. But for nearly 20 years, Iran conducted the program covertly, leading to suspicions it is seeking to develop nuclear arms.
European Union foreign ministers issued a statement yesterday calling on Iran to comply with demands by the IAEA board to suspend uranium enrichment. They said Iran should give agency monitors access to research, experts, facilities, and documents.
Three EU states -- Britain, France, and Germany -- seeking to negotiate a solution with Iran have not yet responded to a new offer from Tehran to resume talks. Iran in August rejected an EU package of security and economic incentives to stop its nuclear work.
The U.S. State Department’s top U.S. nonproliferation official, Robert Joseph, told yesterday's conference that Iran has provided a “dizzying array of cover stories and false statements” about its nuclear program. He said the best way to assure its compliance with the IAEA is through UN Security Council pressure.
“In the U.S. view, the Security Council should not supplant the IAEA effort but should reinforce it," Joseph said. "For example, by calling on Iran to cooperate with the agency and to take steps, the IAEA board has identified to restore confidence and by giving the IAEA new needed authority to investigate all Iranian 'weaponization' efforts. We continue to work with other IAEA board members on the timing and content of the report of Iranian noncompliance to the Security Council.”
The IAEA board’s next meeting is later in November.
Meanwhile, el-Baradei and the IAEA, awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, are moving ahead with a separate initiative to establish a nuclear fuel bank. The idea is to provide reliable access to nuclear fuel at market prices, which would remove incentives for countries to develop their own fuel-cycle capabilities.
The United States said in October that it would make more than 17 metric tons of highly enriched uranium available that could be blended down to lightly enriched fuel. El-Baradei said Russia has also indicated it would make nuclear material available for the fuel-bank program.
El-Baradei said the IAEA is close to being able to establish next year this “assurance” supply.
"Once you have an assurance supply you are taking away the justification from countries to say 'I would like to make my own fuel,'" el-Baradei said. "And that's 80 percent resolving the problem. I would like once we get assurance of supply to couple that with a 10 years moratorium for any new enrichment facility or reprocessing facility."
But el-Baradei stressed that in addition to improved verification and nuclear fuel, the best way to assure countries like Iran do not carry through a nuclear weapons program is providing a better sense of security.
“We need to understand always that countries are tempted to develop nuclear weapons because -- rightly or wrongly -- because they are driven by a sense of insecurity or projection of power, what have you," el-Baradei said. "So while we address the symptoms through verification, we need not to forget the causes as why countries are trying to move into certain direction.”
In a report released yesterday, the General Accounting Office (GAO), a U.S. Congressional investigative body, praised the IAEA as a key part of U.S. efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. But the GAO said that despite success in uncovering some secret nuclear activities, "a determined country can still conceal a nuclear weapons program."