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UN Must Empower IAEA, Not Rely On Sanctions

IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei at the UN atomic watchdog's weeklong autumn meeting in Vienna.
VIENNA (Reuters) -- The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog has urged the UN Security Council to give it more powers to prevent the spread of atom bomb know-how and avoid relying on sanctions he said often did not work.

Mohammad el-Baradei's September 14 call was a clear reference to the case of Iran, which is expanding a declared civilian uranium-enrichment program without clarifying allegations that it has also researched how to fuel a nuclear weapon.

He spoke as state television in Iran, which is shrugging off the threat of harsher sanctions, said Tehran and six world powers trying to resolve the standoff over its disputed nuclear program would launch talks in early October.

Iran last week handed over a package of proposals in which it said it was ready to discuss global nuclear disarmament and other international issues, but not its own nuclear activity, despite U.S. insistence the issue will be raised.

El-Baradei, outgoing chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), welcomed the U.S. offer to revive dialogue with Iran without preconditions. But he suggested threats of tougher sanctions on Iran if the talks fizzled would achieve little.

"We must keep open the channels of communication with those with whom we have issues that need to be resolved rather than seeking to isolate them," el-Baradei said in an address opening the annual meeting of 150 IAEA member nations.

He said IAEA inspectors could not do their job "in isolation" but depended on political support from the Security Council. He urged it to give the IAEA greater means to verify states are not diverting nuclear technology for weaponry.

Sanctions Often Misfire

"The council needs to develop a comprehensive compliance mechanism that does not rely only on sanctions, which too often hurt the vulnerable and the innocent," el-Baradei said, referring to the example of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and to North Korea.

He said that if three burning issues were not addressed soon -- the IAEA's weak legal authority, underfunding of the agency, and the threat of militants obtaining nuclear materials -- they "could put the entire non-proliferation regime at risk."

El-Baradei said 73 countries including Iran and North Korea had failed to ratify an IAEA protocol allowing snap inspections ranging beyond declared nuclear sites -- a measure critical to ferreting out evidence of covert atomic bomb activity.

"For these countries, our ability to detect possible undeclared activities is severely limited," he said.

The chief U.S. delegate, obliquely differing with el-Baradei, said any nuclear outlaws must face "serious consequences" at the Security Council, an allusion to the tool of sanctions.

"Failure to impose meaningful consequences puts at risk everything we have achieved [with nonproliferation rules]. We cannot let this happen," said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only to fuel nuclear power plants. The West suspects Iran's latent purpose with the dual-use nuclear technology is to make atom bombs.