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ElBaradei calls for timeout on Iran nuclear program

Story Highlights

• IAEA head calls for timeout on issue of Iranian nuclear program
• Mohammed ElBaradei says he hopes talks on the issue can resume
• Iran is conducting small-scale research enrichment program, report say
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DAVOS, Switzerland (CNN) -- International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei said Friday he was calling for a timeout regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, hoping that talks on the matter can resume.

ElBaradei told CNN International that the timeout would mean Iran would freeze its nuclear program, while the United Nations would temporarily suspend the sanctions package against Iran that took effect last month.

"The key to the Iranian issue is a direct engagement between Iran and the U.S., similar to North Korea," ElBaradei told CNN International's Becky Anderson. (Watch the full interview Video)

"North Korea is a good example. For years, things were not moving. Only when the U.S. talked directly with the North Koreans, we had a positive report. If we are able to talk to the North Koreans, we ought to be able to talk to the Iranians."

According to a report last fall by Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency, Iran had been conducting a small-scale research enrichment program using 164 centrifuges at its Natanz facility. ISNA said the country's centrifuges are projected to number 3,000 by March.

IAEA inspectors in Iran have reported that the Iranians will begin building a centrifuge facility at Natanz next month, an IAEA official told CNN on Friday. And the official said that the further down the nuclear path Iran goes, the harder it could be to get them to halt production.

An Iranian official at the United Nations told CNN that he was not sure of the number of centrifuges, but that the degree of enrichment would only be high enough for civilian energy purposes. Tehran has maintained its nuclear program is aimed only at energy, while the United States and other Western countries are concerned it is trying to build nuclear weapons.

Former U.N. nuclear inspector David Albright, however, said that 3,000 centrifuges would produce enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb. But, Albright predicted it would take Iran a year to get the centrifuges in place and another year to make the highly enriched uranium.

Iran has banned 38 IAEA inspectors from entering the country. An Iranian diplomat told IRNA, the nation's official state-run news agency, that inspectors whose countries voted for a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding sanctions on Iraq would be banned. ISNA did not name the diplomat, saying he spoke on condition of anonymity.

ElBaradei told CNN that Iran was not banning inspectors, but attempting to reduce their number.

"This reduced somewhat the flexibility we have, but I should say we have over 100 inspectors in Tehran, so we have enough people to do the job," he said. "It is in the interest of Iran for us to be able to do our work and to be able to show that they are transparent and they are proactive."

The IAEA official said ElBaradei has not heard back from Iran on the timeout proposal. He must report back to the United Nations on the matter by Feb. 21.

"I would like to report that we are back on the right track, and the right track is negotiation, dialogue and understanding where everyone is coming from," he said. "If I report negatively, and we have escalation and counter-escalation, we are on the wrong track."

-- CNN's Brian Todd contributed to this report


Mohammed ElBaradei

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