NEW YORK -- The departing director of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency declared Wednesday that efforts to curb nuclear proliferation were in "tatters," but he held out hope that current talks over Iran's nuclear program could open "a new era" between the West and Tehran.
Mohamed ElBaradei, who leaves Dec. 1 after 12 years as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the Council on Foreign Relations that 50 years of mistrust threatens the proposed deal for Iran to ship most of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing into medical isotopes.
Iran has balked over issues of timing and amounts to be shipped, but talks could still succeed, he asserted. "If I can do that by the end of the month, I'd leave as a very happy man," he said.
The Egyptian diplomat said the IAEA still has no concrete proof that Iran has an ongoing nuclear-weapons program. He praised the Obama administration for opening a dialogue with Iran without preconditions.
Mr. ElBaradei said military action against Iran would solve nothing, since Tehran would engage in a crash program and "you cannot bomb knowledge.'' If Iran was attacked, "Every Iranian, even in Los Angeles" would support the nuclear program, he asserted, as would its allies.
Arab nations were "not comfortable reading that Israel has 200 warheads and it wants to bomb a country just for having the technology," he said.
Mr. ElBaradei said the world had fared poorly in its nonproliferation efforts. "We have not done well over the past 25 years," he said. "If you look at our international security system, it is in tatters." He said there was more danger now that nuclear weapons would be used than during the Cold War, especially if they get into terrorists' hands.