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ElBaradei Says U.S. Outreach To Iran Could Aid IAEA

Iran's Natanz nuclear enrichment plant
VIENNA (Reuters) - A new U.S. readiness to engage Iran could help resolve suspicions about its nuclear work, but Tehran must do more to end the stalemate, the UN nuclear watchdog chief has said.

Mohamed ElBaradei made the remarks in an address kicking off a weeklong meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board of governors, the first since U.S. President Barack Obama took office.

Obama has pledged diplomatic outreach to Iran and other U.S. foes after years of a fruitless isolation policy by President George W. Bush, but concrete steps await the outcome of a foreign policy review due for completion in about a month.

Still, Washington's return under Obama to support for multilateral cooperation to address frozen conflicts has been greeted with relief in the IAEA and by many of its governors, and ElBaradei's remarks touched on that.

"I am hopeful that the apparent fresh approach by the international community to dialogue with Iran will give new impetus to the efforts to resolve this long-standing issue in a way that provides the required assurances about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, while assuring Iran of its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes," he said.

ElBaradei did not mention the Obama administration by name, but his inference was clear.

But he reiterated that Iran was stonewalling IAEA attempts to defuse mistrust in its nuclear ambitions by:

- refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can yield fuel for power plants or, if reconfigured, for atom bombs;

- refusing to allow U.N. inspector checks beyond declared nuclear installations;

- refusing to let inspectors go to a heavy water reactor under construction to verify Iranian design data to ensure it will be put only to peaceful uses; and

- refusing to provide documentation, access to officials for interviews and sites in question to check intelligence allegations of "possible military dimensions" to its nuclear fuel program.

"I again urge Iran to implement all measures required to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program at the earliest possible date and to unblock this stalemated situation," ElBaradei told the gathering.

U.S. 'Propaganda'

Iran says it is enriching uranium to make electricity, not bombs.

On March 2, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi dismissed as propaganda a statement by the U.S. military chief of staff that Tehran was believed to have enough nuclear material to make a bomb. "All these statements regarding the production of a nuclear bomb are baseless," he said.

"It is baseless from a technical point of view and has propaganda connotations," he told a news conference.

U.S. Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said on March 1 that Washington believed Iran had enough material to make a bomb.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates later said Iran was not close to having a nuclear bomb, giving the United States and allies time to try to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected atomic arms program.

Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful drive to generate electricity so that the world's fourth-largest crude producer can export more of its oil and gas.

Asked about Mullen's statement, Qashqavi said Gates had also said it was not correct. He noted Iran was a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"We are controlled by cameras in regards to the amount and level of uranium enrichment," he said, referring to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the enrichment plant at Natanz in central Iran. "Anything produced at Natanz is under their supervision," Qashqavi said.

The IAEA said in a report last month Iran had built up a stockpile of low-enriched uranium. The reported stockpile of 1,010 kg would be enough -- if converted into highly-enriched uranium -- to make a bomb, analysts have said.