UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei called on the United States to provide Iran with nuclear reactors, and urged Tehran to declare a moratorium on enriching uranium for at least eight years.
He said eight or nine years would enable the country to earn the confidence of the international community that it was really interested in nuclear energy -- not nuclear weapons.
The Iranians argue that they need to develop an enrichment capability because they cannot be assured of a guaranteed supply of fuel for a peaceful nuclear energy program, ElBaradei said at a panel last Friday at the World Economic Forum (WEF).
"I would separate the issues of using nuclear technology for energy and to produce weapons," he said. "I would call upon the United States to provide Iran with reactors, and I would call upon Iran to declare a moratorium on enrichment for at least eight or nine years" until the country can earn the global community's confidence.
Iran provoked an international outcry on January 10 when it cut seals of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at its main enrichment plant and resumed small-scale enrichment of uranium -- a process that can be used to produce fuel for generating electricity or material for atomic bombs.
Britain, France and Germany -- who have been leading European Union (EU) efforts to get Iran to abandon uranium conversion and enrichment activities -- succeeded in getting the IAEA's board to meet February 2 to discuss taking action against Iran, a move supported by the United States. The four countries want Iran to be referred to the U.N. Security Council.
Earlier, last Thursday, ElBaradei said he was hopeful that a Russian proposal could help break the standoff over Iran's nuclear research and enrichment plans. He cited a statement earlier in the day by Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, who said Russia's proposal to move Iran's enrichment programme to Russian territory was "a positive one."
He later warned that the nuclear crisis and other pressing issues regarding Iran could not be resolved through "escalation."
What advice would the IAEA director-general give Western officials?
"You need to keep all options on the table, but you are paid to make policy decisions," he said. "I would hold my horses to allow for the continuation of negotiations."
At least one leading U.S. senator from President George W. Bush's party appeared to rule out negotiations.
"They're interested in acquiring weapons of mass destruction and dominating the Middle East," Arizona Republican John McCain told a panel. "I don't know of any carrot that works."
Last Thursday, ElBaradei said the Russia proposal was "very attractive" because Iran needed to go through "a rehabilitation period," but his comments Friday went further.
Iran's first reactor, built by Russia, is due to come online later this year.
Alyson Bailes, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden, called Friday for new technologies and advanced reactors that would be built to rule out the high enrichment of uranium.
ElBaradei did not elaborate on having the U.S. build future reactors for Iran, but presumably this would enable Washington to build in safeguards to prevent Iran from getting weapons-grade uranium.
ElBaradei backed the quest for new technologies, but more immediately he called for international control over all nuclear activities and the creation of a nuclear fuel bank to ensure supplies of uranium to all countries.
While the IAEA is focused primarily on "symptoms," he said the international community should also deal with the underlying causes that spur nuclear proliferation.
"We have three conflicts that have been going on at least for 50, 60, 70 years. That's the Korean issue, the Middle East issue, the south Asia Kashmir issue," he said.
"If you fix these three issues, in my view, at least in my area, 80 to 90 per cent of the proliferation threat will go away," he said Thursday.
"It is unacceptable, frankly, from my perspective to see conflict going on for 60, 70 years," ElBaradei said.
While there were many driving forces that create extremists, he said, "my personal take on it - it's really the sense of humiliation. It's not just poverty. It's the sense of injustice and humiliation."
"Lots of that is taking place both on the hands of national governments, lack of good governance, suppression of human rights. Lots of that is coming also from the outside. And if you have that coming both ways, you see a lot of extremists," ElBaradei said.
In a more globalised and polarised world, where technology spreads rapidly, extremists were "gaining ground" in many areas, he warned.
"We need to worry because there's a lot of material that easily go into nuclear weapons that is all over the place. We know that the technology on how to weaponize is out of the tube. We know that terrorists are highly sophisticated and are interested in acquiring nuclear weapons or nuclear material -- either to steal one or to make a crude bomb," he said.
ElBaradei called for a new and different framework to manage nuclear technology and improved information sharing.
"We are running in a race against time," he said.