Progress in Talks Over Iran's Nuclear Program

VIENNA -- A senior U.S. envoy on Monday welcomed progress at talks meant to defuse a standoff over Iran's nuclear defiance, but said the UN Security Council still intended to move forward toward sanctions if Tehran refused to freeze uranium enrichment.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, meanwhile, called for compromise from both Tehran and six world powers offering rewards for Tehran if it froze uranium enrichment and punishments if it did not. They spoke after revelations that Iran was ready to consider complying -- at least temporarily -- with a United Nations Security Council demand that it freeze uranium enrichment.

Expanding on terms of such a possible Iranian compromise, a diplomat familiar with the issue said Tehran was seeking assurances it would not be attacked by the United States during any negotiations with six world powers on enrichment and other nuclear issues.

"They are essentially seeking assurances that they would not be bombed while they are talking," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential information.

Speaking just minutes before the start of his organization's 35-nation board meeting, IAEA chief Mohammed Elbaradei said "the window of opportunity is not very long" -- an implicit warning that the standoff was on the brink of escalating, with the UN Security Council close to considering sanctions.

Later in the week, the board will review an IAEA report received late last month documenting dozens of cases in which Iran had delayed or hampered attempts by the agency to probe Tehran's nuclear activities. The report also formally establishes that Iran ignored an Aug. 31 UN Security Council demand to suspend enrichment or face possible sanctions.

Touching on that report, Elbaradei said he would tell the board "that Iran has not come into full compliance with the [Security Council] request ... to suspend its enrichment ... and also to work with the agency to clarify important outstanding issues." He said Iranian cooperation was "much overdue."

In separate comments inside the meeting, he said his agency could not "provide assurances about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran" -- an acknowledgment that he could not guarantee that Tehran did not have a secret weapons program.