VIENNA, Austria – Iran has significantly slowed work on its uranium enrichment program, the head of the U.N. atomic agency said Monday, interpreting the move as a signal that the country could be willing to resolve the standoff over its nuclear defiance.
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also welcomed the upcoming return of a team of agency experts to North Korea to help in dismantling its nuclear program. He said international willingness to talk to the government in Pyongyang could serve as an example in how to engage Iran.
ElBaradei spoke at the end of a half-day special meeting of his agency's 35-nation board that approved sending the agency team to North Korea within weeks, as well as agreeing on the IAEA's 2008-2009 budget.
While expressing hope that Iran might go as far as totally freezing enrichment activities — as demanded by the U.N. Security Council, ElBaradei told reporters that there had been a "marked slowdown" in centrifuges on line and in using them to turn out enriched uranium.
IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen leaves for Tehran on Tuesday to see whether the government will answer questions about activities that could be linked to a nuclear weapons program. Iran insists its nuclear program is to generate electricity.
If Iran honored its promise to resolve those question and froze all enrichment activities, "this would influence the actions" of the six nations — the five permanent council members and Germany, ElBaradei said, suggesting that the council would desist from approving new sanctions as a result.
He repeated a call for the United States to speak directly to Iran over the nuclear standoff.
"I think that would help for in many ways for us to make progress," ElBaradei said. "You need to understand where each other is coming from."