VIENNA, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- The threat posed by Iran's nuclear program had been exaggerated by the West, former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Mohamed ElBaradei said in a published interview.
The interview was conducted by the Austrian Press Agency (APA) and released Tuesday.
In the exclusive interview, ElBaradei said U.S. intelligence agencies believed Iran had been developing nuclear weapons according to a report issued in 2007; however, Iran in fact had stopped this attempt as early as 2003. "Today, this assessment is still correct," he said.
ElBaradei also said he didn't rule out that Iran did try to develop nuclear weapons in the 1980s, in the circumstances of Iran's war against Iraq and threat of Iraq's chemical weapons attack.
"Every country in this situation would have to think about how to defend itself," he said and added the nuclear program certainly could help Iran become a "major player in the Middle East".
The former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief also said, "In the view of Iran, uranium enrichment was a means to an end." A country which mastered uranium enrichment techniques could "develop nuclear weapons in a relatively short time". Iran believed this sent out "a strong message to the rest of the world and to the neighbors".
ElBaradei also accused the West of having thwarted an agreement with Iran in recent years by "unrealistic demands". Furthermore, "some practices are unbearable for any country".
To this end, he hoped to see that U.S. President Barack Obama could contribute to a smooth solution for the Iran issue during his term in office and pointed out one of the important points was to ease mutual suspicion between the U.S. and Iran.
Iran was one of the most important countries in the Middle East, which could become "a key to the stability in the Middle East. Without Iran's participation, it is also hard to solve the Afghanistan issue and the Syria-Lebanon complex", ElBaradei said.