- The Washington Times - Friday, November 27, 2009

VIENNA, Austria | The International Atomic Energy Agency’s probe of Iran’s nuclear program is at a dead end because Tehran is not cooperating, the chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Thursday in an unusually blunt expression of frustration four days before he leaves office.

Mohamed ElBaradei also warned that international confidence in Iran’s assertions of purely peaceful intent shrank after its belated revelation of a previously secret nuclear facility. He criticized Tehran for not accepting an internationally endorsed plan meant to delay its achieving the ability to make nuclear weapons.

“There has been no movement on remaining issues of concern, which need to be clarified for the agency to verify the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” Mr. ElBaradei told the opening session of the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors. “We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us.”

“Issues of concern” is the IAEA term for indications that Tehran has experimented with nuclear weapons programs, including missile-delivery systems and tests of explosives that could serve as nuclear-bomb detonators.

Mr. ElBaradei has emphasized the need for talks instead of threats in engaging Iran. But his comments Thursday left little doubt that he was most unhappy with Tehran. “I’m disappointed that Iran has not so far agreed to the original proposal” involving removal of most of Iran’s enriched stockpile, he said.

The plan approved by the six world powers negotiating with Iran over the past few months would commit Tehran to ship out 70 percent of its enriched uranium for processing into fuel rods for its research reactor in Tehran. That would help allay international fears by removing most of the material that Iran could use to make a nuclear weapon.

It would take more than a year for Tehran to replace the enriched material, meaning it would not be able to make a weapon for at least that long.

Iran says it is enriching only to power a future network of nuclear reactors. But enrichment can also produce fissile warhead material. Iran continues enriching, despite three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions meant to make it freeze that activity and has built an enriched stockpile that could arm two nuclear warheads.

Initially, Tehran appeared to favor the plan. But in recent weeks it has offered modifications that have one thing in common - its refusal to ship out most of its enriched stockpile. That effectively kills the plan, with the West refusing to accept anything other than an Iranian commitment to export the material.

Also Thursday, the Norwegian government said Iranian authorities have confiscated Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi’s medal, accusing Tehran of a shocking first in the history of the prize. Ms. Ebadi’s medal was seized “within the last week or so” from a safe-deposit box in Iran, along with personal effects including the diploma awarded with the medal, Norway’s Foreign Ministry said in Oslo.

The human rights lawyer won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts in promoting democracy. She has long faced harassment from Iranian authorities for her activities, including a raid on her office last year in which files were confiscated.

Meanwhile, Iran brought new espionage charges against an Iranian-American scholar who was already convicted of spying and sentenced to 15 years in prison in the country’s crackdown following June’s disputed presidential election, the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said Thursday.

The new charges raise the possibility of a harsher penalty against Kian Tajbakhsh, a 47-year-old scholar who was in Iran working on a book when he was arrested at his home nearly five months ago amid security forces’ postelection sweep against the opposition.

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