BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) – Iran has been “somewhat vindicated” by a new U.S. intelligence review that concludes the nation stopped developing a nuclear weapons program in 2003, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Wednesday.
International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Mohamed ElBaradei called the report a “sigh of relief” because its conclusions also jibe with the agency’s own findings.
“Iran obviously has been somewhat vindicated in saying they have not been working on a weapons program, at least for the last few years,” ElBaradei told reporters in Brazil’s capital.
Monday’s assessment by the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate said Tehran halted nuclear weapons development in late 2003 under international pressure.
ElBaradei said he had not been provided with a copy of the document in its entirety that includes classified information, but said the public portion released was enough evidence to conclude that Tehran has not recently been trying to develop a nuclear weapons program.
“It is consistent with what the agency and I have been saying for a number of years,” ElBaradei said. He also said the release of the report signaled an opportunity for Tehran to prove it has no plans to develop a weapons program, and said Iranian authorities should seize the opportunity to prove that they have peaceful plans for nuclear energy.
The release of the report suggests there is “ample opportunity” for international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, ElBaradei said. “I see this report as a window of opportunity,” he said. “It’s a window of opportunity because it gives diplomacy a new chance.”
ElBaradei did not say whether the U.S. report’s findings will undermine Washington’s push for a new set of U.N. sanctions against Iran, but warned that the agency still plans more inspections to address some issues about the nation’s nuclear energy program.
“We have not seen a smoking gun in the last few years, but we still have work to be performed,” he said. ElBaradei added: “Iran needs to continue working with us. Iran needs to clear the deck.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called the U.S. report “a declaration of victory” for Iran’s nuclear program.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would not directly respond to Ahmadinejad’s remarks, but told reporters in Ethiopia’s capital that the U.S. intelligence report’s public release showed the Bush administration was committed to transparent democracy while Iran was not.