Iran has significantly slowed work on its uranium enrichment program, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday, suggesting the move on the part of Teheran could signal willingness to resolve the international standoff over its nuclear defiance. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei welcomed the upcoming return of a team of agency experts to North Korea to help in dismantling its nuclear program, and said international willingness to talk to Pyongyang could serve as an example in how to engage Iran.
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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 the next few 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 UN 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.
His comments came a day before IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen leaves for Teheran to explore how willing Iran is to make good on pledges that it is ready to answer all outstanding questions about activities that could be linked to a nuclear weapons program.
If Iran honored that promise 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."