Interview with John Bolton on U.S. Policy in the Middle East (Excerpts)

April 16, 2003

Sawa-1: Please can you outline the non-proliferation policy of the United States in the Middle East after disarming Iraq?

Bolton: The United States is very concerned that states seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction give up that quest, and that they live within the commitments that they've made in such things such as the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, the chemical weapons convention, and the biological weapons convention. So we are hoping that the example of Iraq divested of its weapons of mass destruction would be persuasive to a number of other states in the Middle East, and we certainly intend to exert a maximum diplomatic effort to persuade other states like Syria, Libya and Iran among others to give up their pursuit of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and long range ballistic missile delivery systems.


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Sawa-3: What countries after Iraq pose the greatest threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction?

Bolton: In terms of countries that are closest to acquiring or actually have nuclear weapons, clearly North Korea and Iran are the two highest on our list. They're in two different parts of the world and they're at different stages in their nuclear weapons program. But there's no doubt that in the aftermath of the Iraq conflict that Iran and North Korea will be on the top of our list of priorities. But there are other countries that already have substantial chemical and biological weapons capabilities that also worry us greatly.

Sawa-4: What message does the Iraqi operation send to such countries?

Bolton: I think it sends a message that when the President of the United States says that all options are open in his determination to rid countries of weapons of mass destruction, that he is serious about it. And no one wants to repeat what has happened in Iraq, and we are hoping that the elimination of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein and the elimination of all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would be important lessons to other countries in the region particularly Syria, Libya and Iran, that the cost of their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is potentially quite high. We want a peaceful resolution to all of these issues, but the determination of the United States, especially after September 11, to keep these incredibly dangerous weapons out of the hands of very dangerous people should not be underestimated.


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Sawa-7: Where does Iran's nuclear program stand?

Bolton: Well, in the wake of the visit recently of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, we now know in a public way that Iran has a very sophisticated nuclear fuel cycle program. They've got the capacity to enrich uranium up to weapons grade levels and a whole range of other activities in the nuclear fuel cycle that could give them fusion materials to build nuclear weapons in a very short period of time. I think that the outside observers who saw just a small part of the Iranian program were impressed and surprised at how sophisticated and advanced it is, which shows that the Iranian nuclear weapons effort is really very, very far along.

Sawa-8: What are we asking Russia now to do regarding Iran and its nuclear program?

Bolton: Well, we have pressed the Russians for some time to end all of the assistance that's been going to the clandestine Iranian nuclear weapons program, and the recent revelations about Iran combined with North Korea's withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty show how easy it is to get around the international non-proliferation regime. So we have asked Russia to consider not delivering fuel to the Bushehr reactor until Iran has verifiably given up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. We think that when a country is so obviously pursuing nuclear weapons that peaceful nuclear cooperation that otherwise would be unexceptional is something that really should not go forward.

Sawa-9: Has the United Nations been effective on the issue of non-proliferation of WMD?

Bolton: Well, I think the answer is that over the years countries have been willing to sign non-proliferation agreements and arms control treaties and then violate them; and that is the sort of non-compliance that has troubled us very greatly and that we've raised in a number of international forums. I think there's a heavy burden on the United Nations to show that it can be effective in this area and to show that statements, documents, declarations, resolutions and treaties that come out of the UN system in fact are observed by everybody who signs up to them. If they're not, then obviously the entire UN system will be less effective.

Sawa-10: Can you assess the work of Mohamed AlBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?

Bolton: Well, we support the Director General and his work. The IAEA is a very important international agency. It has a very important mandate. We support it with our assessed contributions and substantial voluntary financial contributions as well, and we want to make it stronger. We'd like to see it more effective. We think changes have been made in the past few years, but as with any international organization there could be substantial additional improvements as well.


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Sawa-12: What do you say to people and countries who are calling for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East?

Bolton: Well, I think the question of how to get to a state where there are no nuclear weapons is obviously something that's complex, and that we are pursuing. We adhere to the non-proliferation treaty which has only five legitimate nuclear weapons states, and that remains our position.