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Iran: El-Baradei Says Attack On Country Would Be Catastrophic

By Golnaz Esfandiari

January 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei has warned that an attack on Iran would be catastrophic and encourage Tehran to develop a nuclear bomb. Like el-Baradei, other participants at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, have also warned about military action against Iran.

Several prominent participants at this year's World Economic Forum are urging politicians to give dialogue and diplomacy a chance in the crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

Focus On Diplomacy

El-Baradei, whose agency has been monitoring Iran's nuclear program for several years, called for an end to talk of a military option for the Iranian nuclear crisis, saying that any strike would be counterproductive.

"I still believe that the only solution to the Iranian issue -- which is in our hands right now -- is dialogue, is negotiation, is engagement by the neighbors and by all the relevant parties," he said. "The Arab countries have to be engaged, the U.S. has to be engaged. We need to try that. We need to invest in peace because the alternative is not there, and the alternatives could be 10 times worse."

El-Baradei made the comments on January 25 at a panel discussion about nuclear proliferation at the Davos conference. He said his agency is unaware of any undeclared Iranian nuclear facility aimed at building nuclear weapons.

"Nobody knows [if] Iran has an undeclared nuclear facility," he continued. "So, [Iran has] the knowledge [to build a nuclear weapon]. Sure, they have the knowledge. Are you going to bomb the knowledge? That's not even a practical proposition."

His comments come amid a toughening of U.S. rhetoric against Iran, which Washington accuses of secretly developing nuclear weapons and of destabilizing Iraq and the region. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and it rejects allegations that it is meddling in Iraq's internal affairs.

Is Iran A Threat?

The international community remains suspicious about Iran's nuclear intentions and last month the UN Security Council adopted limited sanctions against Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear program.

In recent weeks there have been a number of reports about a possible U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran to halt the country's nuclear activities. U.S. President George W. Bush warned in his State of the Union speech on January 23 about the dangers posed by Iran. A U.S. military build-up in the Persian Gulf has added to the speculation.

The Bush administration has said all options are on the table when it comes to dealing with Iran's nuclear program, but it has said it remains committed to diplomacy. Despite Washington's assurances, concern about a U.S. military confrontation with Iran is increasing inside Iran and also on the international scene.

Concern was expressed on January 25 by Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, another participant at the Davos World Economic Forum. He warned that attacking Iran in order to halt its nuclear activities would be "catastrophic" for the region and the world.

"In Pakistan's point of view, Pakistan is against [nuclear] proliferation by Iran," he said. "We do not support their production of weapons, and we support what the IAEA is doing."

Also in Davos, former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami appealed for calm on January 25 in an effort to reduce increasing tension between Tehran and Washington. Khatami called for "patience and understanding" and suggested that the United States should have a dialogue with Iran and Syria over the situation in Iraq.

More Warnings

A day earlier (January 24) in Davos, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Mussa, said there is a 50-50 chance that the United States will attack Iran. He did not explain on what basis he made the assessment, but he said any such strike would backfire. Mussa said Washington should use dialogue both to resolve the tensions with Iran and also the violence in Iraq.

Iranian officials have downplayed speculation about a U.S. military strike against the country and described such talk as "psychological warfare."

On January 25, top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani assessed as "very weak" the possibility of a U.S. strike on Iran but added that Iran is ready to confront such threats.

Hard-line Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has also rejected the possibility of a U.S. attack against Iran. He said on January 23 that "the threats" are only a psychological war to try and create what he describes as "an atmosphere of fear" in the country.

Despite the official defiance, reports suggest there is growing concern within Iranian society about the effects of sanctions and other measures if Iran continues sensitive nuclear work.

"The Guardian" reported on January 24 that Iran's former powerful president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, is trying to persuade the country's supreme leader that further negotiations are essential to avoid a conflict with the United States or Israel.

The British daily wrote that Rafsanjani believes that Iran may have to accept Western demands to suspend uranium enrichment in order to save the country's Islamic establishment from "collapse."

Rafsanjani said today in his Friday prayer sermon that Iran has to act to act with "caution" against U.S. threats aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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