Press Conference with Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer and IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei

November 8, 2004


Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to welcome Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, who's the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, here to Sydney today and say that we're delighted to have him participate in our Asia-Pacific conference on nuclear security.

This is a conference that we have organized, which brings together around 30 countries from the Asia-Pacific region where we can focus on the risks of nuclear proliferation and, very importantly, the risks of nuclear proliferation into the hands of terrorists.

This country … we've made this point quite often that if terrorists were to get hold of nuclear weapons or nuclear material, as we know some terrorists have endeavored to do so - in particular Al Qaeda has endeavored to do so - the consequences could be devastating.

What we want to see is the Asia-Pacific region at the very least and more importantly the whole of the international community, apply appropriately high standards of protection of nuclear material, to continue to make a very strong regional contribution to the non-proliferation regime and to ensure that as a region we make a solid contribution to the non-proliferation treaty review conference which will be taking place in May next year.

Particularly pleased to have Mohamed ElBaradei here as the guest speaker - as the keynote speaker - at this regional meeting. As I said, he's the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It's the organization charged with the simply immense task of enforcing the international norms on nuclear energy use and non-proliferation. And he is, of course, dealing with issues that are of great interest and concern to us; the issue of Iran that we have been ourselves been contributing to trying to resolve, particularly earlier this year, at the time of the visit by the Secretary-General of the Iranian National Security Committee, Mr Rowhani. And of course we wrestle in this part of the world too with the difficult issue of North Korea.

So, I'll ask Dr ElBaradei if he'd like to say a few words, and then we'll be, both of us, happy to answer any questions.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI - IAEA: Can I first say that how much I appreciate the invitation to come to the conference here and to have an opportunity to meet with Mr Downer who's a good friend and colleague. We've had a good meeting on discussing many of the issues of current concern.

We have also committed ourselves to do all we can to work on this new phenomenon called nuclear terrorism which we're (indistinct) up to 9/11 when we realized that terrorists have become so sophisticated (indistinct) … and that they have also shown interest in nuclear and radioactive materials. So we are dealing with a problem that is current and that's real and that's highly dangerous.

I've always said that we're having a race against time because this is something which we were not prepared for. Many of the radioactive sources, many of the nuclear facilities, we looked at it in the past from a (indistinct). But we never thought that people would be ready, to use it for malevolent activities and sacrifice their life in the process.

We, the IAEA, have a large program to deal with radioactive sources, nuclear materials, to protect them, detect them, in any case of illicit trafficking of this material or theft. And of course we do our work in cooperation with national governments and regional governments. And I'm very happy that Australia took the initiative to organize the conference here. I think the Asia-Pacific is an area which has a lot of nuclear activity. It has a lot of countries that rely heavily on nuclear and radioactive sources for their economic and social development. And we need to do all we can to strike a balance while we make these technologies available to countries and people, we have also to make sure that these activities will not be misused under any form or shape.

So I welcome the opportunity to be here today. I welcome the initiative that Australia has taken, and I would be happy with Alexander Downer to answer any of your questions.

REPORTER: (Inaudible question)

ELBARADEI: Well, I have been very supportive of the process of dialogue between Europe and Iran. I would hope that this would lead to the desired outcome which is for Iran to suspend all its enrichment and the processing-related activities and open the way for normalization of Iran's relation with international community, starting with Europe which would deal with providing Iran with (indistinct) technology, conventional technology, ….security assurance. I've always believed that a policy of dialogue is the best way to reach an enduring solution.

I'm told that it's still a very tentative agreement, it has not yet been confirmed. I've been talking to both parties and I would hope, however, in the next few days when they are going to re-group that they will put a final seal of approval on that agreement. I think it would be a step in the right direction.

DOWNER: Just from Australia's point of view we want to, for the record, say that we've been giving strong support to the EU3 and we're pleased with what we've heard over the last few days, but we're still short of this matter being concluded. But I can only say I'm a little more optimistic about their efforts now than I was a couple of weeks ago.

REPORTER: Mr ElBaradei, how (indistinct) security would Iran be if they do continue (indistinct) program?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think, as I have been saying, that the issue of each country developing an independent fuel cycle is a matter that we need to revisit. Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, each country has the right to have a complete fuel cycle which means the they have the capability to develop highly enriched uranium or plutonium.

I think we have come to realize that that is not the kind of security margin we would like to live under because a country that has highly enriched uranium or plutonium is really (indistinct), if you like, nuclear weapons. They can develop a weapon, should they decide for security reasons to do that, in a matter of months or maybe a year. So it is not really (indistinct) specific issue. I think it's a question of the international community coming to realize that we need a better control of that sense of aspect of the fuel cycle. And what the international community is saying, particularly in the case of Iran, because of the undeclared nature of the Iranian program in the past, Iran needs to do its utmost to create confidence and one of the confidence-building measures that Iran can take is to suspend enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, in return, you know, for … as I said, a beginning of a dialogue that hopefully will assure Iran that sanctions will be lifted, that technology will be provided to Iraq. And so, it's, in a way, how we can provide a country with all the economic and social development needs while not necessarily move into a situation when there is a concern, a reasonable international concern about a particular program, a nuclear program.

I'm addressing that. As I said, it's not just Iran-specific. I've been putting on the table ideas that we need to have better control, possible multi-nationalizing that part of the fuel cycle, because we do not want to see ourselves in the next 10, 20 years with 40, 50 countries sitting on plutonium or highly enriched uranium. I think the security margin that provides is too close for comfort.

REPORTER: (Indistinct) between Iran and international terrorism (indistinct) think that the IAEA has simply chosen Iran to make an example of them?

ELBARADEI: I don't think so. I can't speak for all Member States. I think our Member States are not really saying this is because, you know, Iran is linked to terrorism or Iran is pursuing a certain policy. I think the international community is saying that we have enough (indistinct) capacity in the world, for example, that we are not yet sure about the nature of the Iran program, because we're still going through (indistinct) verification. And what (indistinct) is asking Iran, at least for now, is to suspend all these activities as confidence building measures and I have been subscribing to that. I've been telling my Iranian colleagues that … do your utmost to create confidence, adopt a policy of full transparency, because that's a way you can then initiate across the (indistinct) which is very much needed between Iran and the rest of the world.

DOWNER: I mean we … just as a member of the board of governance, our perspective on this is that we … I mean, it's important to understand this debate. We accept that originally, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, countries could participate in the full nuclear fuel cycle. We also know that in a post 9/11 environment, to see countries enriching uranium, and the number of countries enriching uranium is expanding all the time, is a matter of enormous concern. And I've made it clear to the Iranians myself that, no matter what the technical arguments are in relation to the NPT, the truth is, that if they proceed with enrichment, that is going to send a very, very negative message to the international community.

There's no doubt that the level of concern in the international community though about nuclear proliferation has been substantially heightened because of the implications of the spread of terrorism. There is no question of that. That just cannot be repudiated.

ELBARADEI: I should add to what Mr Downer has said. There are two new developments that have forced the international community to look at the whole question of proliferation in different lights. One is the illicit network of supply (indistinct) and the awareness that technology has spread, coupled with the new dangerous phenomena of extremism and terrorism. If you put these together, you come quickly to the conclusion that we need to do things differently to protect ourselves.

REPORTER: Mr ElBaradei, how concerned (indistinct) Australia and (indistinct) as to how concerned will you be of the spread of (indistinct) terrorism (indistinct)?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think it's a concern everywhere, not just in the Asia-Pacific. I mean, as I said, in the Asia-Pacific you have a lot of nuclear material… you have a lot of radioactive sources. This is a danger that can occur anywhere. Again, I keep saying, you know, we still have a lot of work to do. We are racing against time. We have to cross our fingers that nothing will happen.

But what we are trying to do in this type of conference here is to raise awareness, you know, that we need to take preventative measures before a nuclear or radiological emergency occurs. We do not need to wait to see a kind of situation like 9/11 or Chernobyl for the international community to act.

We need to have the foresight and to take preventative action. But the danger exists everywhere. The risk is real, as I said. It's current … it's everywhere. It's not just in the Asia-Pacific.

REPORTER: (Inaudible question)

ELBARADEI: Well, I think a lot of measures. I think the conference here is discussing a lot of measures for better physical protection, to make people aware of the danger of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear material, radioactive sources, to have a better system of detection, to have a better system of response in case of emergencies. There's a lot of measures.

We have been working the last few years both as an organization and with national governments, with regional institutions. And a lot has been done but lots more still needs to be done.

DOWNER: One of the key issues is the actual storage and management of nuclear materials to make sure … not to say that no country should ever use nuclear materials for medical purposes or for the production of energy, but to say that where nuclear material is used, it should be properly protected and effectively protected. And there is an endeavor to try to get international standards accepted and incorporated around the Asia-Pacific region and, obviously, well beyond that, around the world.

ELBARADEI: We're focusing on two things. One is the theft of nuclear material and, of course, two is the protection of nuclear facilities, if I give you the two major objectives we are trying to achieve.

REPORTER: (Indistinct), Iran, how would you describe your (indistinct) Iran (indistinct)?

ELBARADEI: My report is not going to be different whether there is an agreement or not, except it would … if I have been asked to verify that suspension, so if there were to be a suspension by Iran of its (indistinct) and (indistinct) activity obviously the report will be more positive because then I'd be able to say to the IAEA board that Iran has responded positively to its request for suspension.

But with regard to the other part, which is verifying that compliance, this is a legal obligation that will continue to be the same whether they have suspended their activities as a confidence building measure or not.

So the report will deal with the issues. One is legal compliance with IAEA obligations; the second is the confidence-building measure. The first part is not going to change; the second part obviously will change depending on Iran's response. And I hope that this report of an initial agreement will be confirmed the next couple of …

DOWNER: I think, an agreement between Iran and the EU3 is going to have a very big impact on the sorts of approaches the board of governors themselves will take. That's going to be the key, for sure.

ELBARADEI: I think the board … many board members have made it clear that their approach will be different if Iran were to show the kind of confidence-building measures requested by the Member States, and that includes suspending any enrichment-related or reprocessing activities.

I'm very hopeful that this will be the case. I think both of us are somewhat cautiously optimistic that we are moving into that direction.

REPORTER: Dr ElBaradei, is there any way of (indistinct)?

ELBARADEI: It's very difficult to speculate. I mean, I hate to speculate on any of these issues but, as I said, I hope we will continue to do as much as we can to make that as difficult as possible.

DOWNER: Without singling out countries, I would say that it comes back to something I said earlier. I don't think that the level of security surrounding nuclear facilities is everywhere in the region of good as it could be. And I think the Director-General would agree with that. But we need to invest resources, substantial resources, in helping countries around the region improve significantly the security of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities.

Now, I know the Americans are investing fairly heavily in providing that sort of assistance but the international community has to focus on it too.

This is in the context not of proliferation per se but in the context of, for example, a terrorist group being able to get some sort of nuclear material. Realistically, I think there's a bit of a consensus about this. The most likely risk is that they could make some kind of a radiological bomb using nuclear material and explosives and spread radiation that way; cause panic, concern, not necessarily kill many people in the one-off explosion but certainly cause widespread concern.

That is a little more likely than them either building a nuclear weapon or stealing a nuclear weapon. I mean, after all, in our immediate region the only country that is a nuclear weapon state is China. We could take India, I suppose, but in East Asia, only China.

But the issue of them getting hold of some nuclear material and being able to use that as part of terrorist activities is a real concern and therefore that nuclear material needs to be secured to a much better extent than is currently the case.

REPORTER: (Indistinct) South East Asia (indistinct).

DOWNER: Well China of course is a nuclear weapon state but there are countries in the region that have nuclear power use for peaceful purposes, for power generation. Some countries just have nuclear research reactors and in some cases, of course, nuclear medicine is used as well.

REPORTER: [Inaudible question]

DOWNER: Well, I wasn't going to nominate any particular countries; just talk in general about what we need to do as a region.

REPORTER: (Inaudible question)

DOWNER: Well … you'll have to ask the Science Minister who's the minister responsible, but I think I should tell you that to the best of my knowledge, security is very good at Lucas Heights and in relation to other nuclear materials that exist in Australia. But as you know, we've had a very full debate in this country about the whole idea of having a nuclear waste dump, low-level nuclear waste dump and a medium-level nuclear waste dump and that is a work in progress. As a South Australian member of the Federal Parliament just coming out of an election, the waste dump's not going to be in South Australia.

REPORTER: (Inaudible question)

DOWNER: Well, Australia is … as I think you all know, Australia is an eternally activist and ultimately optimistic country that believes that if we can make an active and responsible contribution to enhancing the security of the region that can make a real difference. And I think this conference is a great opportunity for us as Australia to bring together other countries in the region and help them focus their minds on the issues at hand.

I made this point to the conference earlier today, that if there were to be a terrorist incident involving nuclear material, there would be a sense of global pandemonium. Yet how much focus is there now, when that hasn't happened, on the risks involved. And you understand my point: we as a region have to make sure that we do everything that is humanly possible to make sure that the type of incidents I describe never occurs.

REPORTER: Dr ElBaradei, given the explosives report that was released in the last week of the US election campaign, how would you describe your relationship with the Bush Administration?

ELBARADEI: I think we have a good working relationship. I think that report, I mean, if … that report had nothing to do, obviously, with the American election. I think it's disgraceful that some people tried to make some political hype out of the timing of the report. I mean, we … as I've said a number of times in … last week in New York, there is a world out there that continues to function whether you have an American election or not. And I have an obligation to report to the UN Security Council, which I did. And in fact I had a discussion on the issue with Secretary Powell after we reported the matter, where we both agreed that the important thing is to try to locate these explosives.

These are very powerful explosives. I am very concerned, not about who knew what and what happened, you know, but how to …is there a possibility to make sure that these explosives will be redeemed. And I did, as you probably know, the first thing when I got that letter is go to the American government before I wrote to the Security Council to give them an opportunity to locate this material.

It's still a mystery to me what happened to this material, and would be very … I am still very concerned about it, obviously, because it's powerful explosives, and I hope, you know, every effort will be made to … at least to know the whereabouts of this material.

REPORTER: Did Secretary Powell express any concerns about the timing of the release of the report?

ELBARADEI: No, he did not. I think he obviously was aware that this was becoming an election issue, but I think he was fully aware of the timing and developments surrounding that report.

REPORTER: (Inaudible question)

DOWNER: We have no plans at the moment to change the nature of our troop deployments in Iraq. As I said yesterday, there are small numbers of people in a number of different functions, but the two key functions of our troops are to provide security for our diplomats and officials. That's the so-called SECDET, the security detachment, and secondly we have a considerable number of Australian troops providing training for the new Iraqi army. They've provided some support for the Navy as well.

That is of course very much a work in progress. It will take some time to build up the security forces in Iraq to a level where the Iraqis themselves can take … or at least predominantly take responsibility for their own security. So, we offer no timeline on when that task will be complete, to put that into some perspective.

Prime Minister Allawi says there are around one hundred thousand members of the Iraqi security forces at the moment, that includes police. But this time next year or the end of next year there'll be - he hopes - around two hundred thousand. We'll have to wait and see.