U.N. atom chief warns of Mideast "fireball"

21/06/2008 - 6:54

By Lin Noueihed

DUBAI (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said amilitary strike on Iran would turn the Middle East into afireball and prompt Tehran to launch a crash course to buildnuclear weapons.

Russia also warned against military threats on Friday,after The New York Times quoted U.S. officials as saying Israelhad carried out a large military exercise, apparently arehearsal for a potential bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities.

"A military strike, in my opinion, would be worse thananything," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) directorgeneral Mohamad ElBaradei told Al Arabiya television in aninterview aired on Friday.

"It would turn the region into a fireball."

He said any attack would only make the Islamic Republicmore determined in its confrontation with the West over itsnuclear programme.

"If you do a military strike, it will mean that Iran, if itis not already making nuclear weapons, will launch a crashcourse to build nuclear weapons with the blessing of allIranians, even those in the West."

"If a military strike is carried out against Iran at thistime ... it would make me unable to continue my work," headded.

Russia's U.N. envoy said threatening Iran with militaryaction could undermine newfound momentum in the drive by sixworld powers to resolve the standoff with Tehran.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana went toTehran last week for talks on the matter.

Diplomats say that on behalf of major powers, he offeredIran preliminary talks on its nuclear work and a freeze onmoves to harsher sanctions if it limited its uranium enrichmentto current levels for six weeks.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to developnuclear bombs. It has not ruled out an attack on the IslamicRepublic, but says it is focusing on diplomatic pressure.

Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful but has refusedto suspend uranium enrichment despite three rounds of U.N.sanctions imposed since 2006. It has also turned down offers ofeconomic benefits to suspend its uranium enrichment, which itsays is to produce fuel for electricity generation.

A U.S. official said this stance could lead to a new roundof sanctions against Iran.

ElBaradei said sanctions alone would not be effective inpersuading Iran to halt nuclear enrichment, saying that moreinternational dialogue was required.

(Additional reporting by Firouz Sedarat, edited by RichardMeares)

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