A senior United Nations official said that cooperation with Iran was “good” Oct. 29, a day after the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency said that there was no evidence that Iran was working to build nuclear weapons.

Arriving in Tehran for a new round of talks, Olli Heinonen, deputy director of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), expressed optimism that the negotiations with senior Iranian officials would prove fruitful.

Speaking on U.S. television Oct. 28, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said: “Have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used in a weapon? No.

“Have we seen an active weaponization program? No.”

The Islamic Republic is “still at least a few years away” from making a nuclear weapon, he emphasized, noting that this gave the international community enough time to seek a diplomatic solution to the dispute.

Iran maintains that it is developing nuclear power exclusively for peaceful purposes.

After Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently accused Iran of “lying” about the aim of its nuclear program, ElBaradei warned that U.S. saber rattling could bring disaster. Rice claimed that there was “no doubt” that Tehran wanted the capability to build nuclear weapons and has deceived the IAEA about its intentions. And Vice President Dick Cheney has threatened “serious consequences” if Iran were found to be working toward developing a nuclear weapon.

President Bush last week raised the specter of “World War III” if Iran were to figure out how to make nuclear weapons, and announced new, even harsher penalties against the Iranian military and state-owned banking systems so as to press the world financial system to cut ties with Tehran.

ElBaradei said that he is worried about the growing rhetoric from the United States, which, he noted, has focused on Iran’s alleged intentions to build a nuclear weapon rather than on evidence that the country was actually doing so. If there was actual evidence, he said, he would welcome seeing it.

“I’m very much concerned about confrontation, building confrontation, because that would lead absolutely to a disaster,” ElBaradei stressed.

He added: “I see no military solution — the only durable solution is through negotiation and inspection. My fear is that, if we continue to escalate from both sides, we will end up in an abyss.”

In September, ElBaradei said, “I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons.”

Meanwhile, regarding another major charge leveled against Iran’s leadership by the Bush administration — namely, that Tehran is supplying Iraqi insurgents with armor-piercing EFPs (explosively formed penetrators) responsible for “killing Americans” — a prominent U.S. foreign policy analyst begged to differ this week.

Gareth Porter, writing for Inter Press Service, said official documents show the U.S. military command has known for some time that Iraqi machine shops have been producing their own EFPs for years. He said the historical evidence shows Iraqi insurgents probably got the design and technology from other sources, possibly Hezbollah, who used them against Israeli forces in southern Lebanon.

Several EFP factories have been found by U.S. military forces in Iraq, Porter said.

Morning Star, The Associated Press and Inter Press Service contributed to this story.