The United Nations nuclear watchdog chief urged Iran on Friday to accept an offer to process its enriched uranium abroad by the end of 2009 and advised Western powers not to impose further sanctions on Tehran.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said a plan brokered by the IAEA in which Iran would send low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for conversion into fuel for a Tehran medical reactor was a rare chance to defuse mistrust over its nuclear program.
"I would hope definitely that we'll get an agreement before the end of the year," he told a news conference in Berlin. "I believe frankly the ball is very much in the Iranian court. I hope they will not miss this unique but fleeting opportunity."
ElBaradei, who retires on November 30 after 12 tough years trying to stop the spread of nuclear weapons know-how, praised the role in talks with Iran played by US President Barack Obama, saying he had initiated a "complete change of policy."
Noting that under Obama the United States had taken a "creative and pragmatic" approach to resolving the impasse over Tehran's nuclear program, ElBaradei used the news conference to send a message directly to the Iranian leadership.
"You need to engage in creative diplomacy, you need to understand that this is the first time that you will have a genuine commitment from an American president to engage you fully, on the basis of respect, with no conditions.
"Don't lose that opportunity," he told Iran, which on Wednesday rejected the proposal he drafted to send the fuel abroad.