BBC Interview With Director General Mohamed ElBaradei (Excerpts)

May 31, 2007

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran

Rob Broomby, BBC: Are we any nearer a resolution to the Iran crisis?

Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA: It depends, I think we could be very near a solution, for two reasons - that people, I think with the passage of time, are coming to realize that the only way to resolve the issue, it to try to sit around the negating table and find a solution. It is becoming more and more clear that the so called nuclear issue is part and parcel of the whole regional security issue.

I see more and more awareness that you are not going to resolve it simply by adopting more sanctions and more pressure, that this is useful as a signal to Iran that the international community is unhappy with certain parts of your activities but in conjunction with that you really have to reach out to them. How that process will go, I think, will determine when we will have a solution.

I don't think it's it is not a question of whether we'll have a solution, it is a question of when we'll have a solution.

Broomby: Do you believe that they want a nuclear weapon?



ElBaradei: We are again, neutral on this issue.



We said before that the jury is still out on this issue.

And that is what we are are trying to do, there are still outstanding issues and I will not come to a hasty conclusion, on this issue or any other issue.

These are issues that are directly related to matters of war and peace and as sitting in judgement we really have to make sure that we will not make a verdict before we have examined all the evidence and the Iranians are not yet forthcoming with some of the evidence and we are saying we haven't seen concrete evidence that this a weapons programme but on the other had we still have questions that need to be answered before we say that this is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Broomby: Iranian behaviour - something to hide?

ElBaradei: Again, a lot of people have their own perspective.

They cooperate with us in implementing the Safeguards agreement, obvious we would like to have them cooperate in a much more broader sense because as I have said repeatedly they have been hiding activities for many, many years.

For us to reconstruct that programme requires that they come with an attitude of full cooperation, full transparency which we haven't seen yet. They are linking some of that cooperation to the negotiation with the Europeans, with the Americans. I told them, you still owe us a confession in terms of the history of the programme, what sort experiments that took place in the past, what sort of equipment that you procured.

Unless you do that, and you come clean, we are not able to say that this it is a peaceful programme, and if we are not able to say it is a peaceful programme, you will continue to have concerns from the international community, you will continue probably to to have the SC adopting sanctions. It is in Iran's interest to come with a reverse policy, if you like and cooperate in a much more broader sense with the IAEA.

Broomby: US opinion?

ElBaradei: Well I think if you see the rhetoric or statements coming from Washington and other places over the last couple of years you will see a quite a nuanced, downscale attitude.
I think two or three years ago Mr. Bolton was saying this was absolutely a weapons programme.

At that time I made it clear we do not have not have any concrete evidence to that direction.
I think if you read now carefully what is being said, including in the UK and the US, they are saying that the Iranians have the ambition to develop a nuclear weapons capability or the intention.

It is very difficult to read intentions.

We don't read intentions; we look at facts.

The fact that they went into many many years in hiding. The Iranian argument - I'm not saying whether this is right or wrong - has been that we were under sanctions for 20 years, we could not have gotten the enrichment equipment knowledge above board so we had to go underground.

Broomby: Are you saying Iran did have the ambition for a nuclear weapon?

ElBaradei: No, I am saying they have the ambition to develop an enrichment capability; there is no question about that. We have been saying that. They want to acquire the know how, the knowledge, the capability of enriching uranium. There is no question about that.
But having an enrichment capability and developing a weapon are two different things - there are thirteen countries that have enrichment capability. Some non nuclear weapons states - Japan, Brazil, Germany. It doesn't mean automatically that you have that, that you will immediately jump to acquire nuclear weapons.

Broomby: They want to have that?

ElBaradei: Enrichment, they are on record...No, as I have said, I am not in a position at this stage to say that they are developing now a parallel programme for weapons.

Whether they had an intention the past, when that programme started in the mid eighties, whether that ambition is still there...When I talk about a nuclear weapon programme, I have to see underground, undeclared nuclear facilities, I have to see weapon usable material. We haven't yet seen any of that. Whether in their heart of hearts they are saying they would like to do that, well I can't read hearts, I can not read intention, I read facts on the ground. We should have learned from the Iraqi experience, we need not Hype issues.

We need to work in a very systematic, in a very matter of fact way.

Definitely, whether they have the intention or not have the intention, one thing is clear, they are not today, a clear and present danger. That is not only my view, it is the view of MI6 and CIA, that even if they have the intention to develop a nuclear weapon whether or not, the are still 5-10 years away from such an undertaking. And that to me that means to me that we have to invest our time in developing a comprehensive, peaceful resolution of the issue, that puts the nuclear issue in the proper context that is part and parcel of the global or regional insecurity in the Middle East.

Broomby: Is Iran thumbing their noses at the international community?

ElBaradei: They are challenging the authority of the SC (Security Council), which is not a good thing.

They are saying that is our right, that the SC is exceeding its authority. This is something which is obviously not good. This faces a whole set of issues of how the SC should deal with non-proliferation issues.

Broomby: What will you be telling the SC?

ElBaradei: I think obviously if nothing unexpected happens in the next couple of weeks, I am going to report the fact they are continuing their enrichment programme. I don't think that Iran is making any secret about that.

It is a problem that we are on a confrontation path. The SC is saying one thing, the Iranians are saying another.

As I have said, we need to diffuse that confrontation, the train wreck path, because I don't think confrontation alone would resolve the issue.

There is no military solution to this issue, use of force would be catastrophic, as I have said a number of times. We need to understand where the Iranians are coming from, the Iranians need to understand the concerns of the international community, and we need to reconcile the differences and find a way.

The key issue that is really blocking the negotiation is this issue of suspension, it has become in many ways a question of face on both sides.

We need to provide a solution to make sure that nobody loses face.

Nobody wants the Iranians to lose face; obviously the international community wants to compromise in its position.

Broomby: State of play on the ground - number of centrifuges?

ElBaradei: They could be probably in a couple of months at 3,000 - again 3,000 is not the magic number. It depends when people talk about industrial scale. That's part of the problem explaining it. It could be a few more thousand by the end of the year. However when you talk about industrial scale... If you need enough centrifuges to fuel one power reactor, you need 54,000. 3,000, if you are talking about peaceful enrichment...they are very far from an industrial capacity.

Broomby: The US is saying it would take one year with 3,000 centrifuges to produce enough HEU (highly enriched uranium) for a bomb.

ElBaradei: That is a correction, but that also requires that they walk all the way out of the NPT.

As long as they are under IAEA verification they will not be able to go from the 5% enrichment to the 90% enrichment.

You have to assume, that is what I have been saying for a while, that when you really talk about Iran today, you are talking about future risk assessment: that the scenario is Iran will have 3,000, then they will walk out of the NPT, and then they will development a nuclear weapon, and then they will pursue an aggressive policy in the Middle East.

Broomby: That is the fear - there could be a breakout.

ElBaradei: If there is a breakout, it takes a year, for example.

The breakout scenario, it could happen with Iran, it could happen with any other country; it happened with North Korea. Of course we don't want that to happen again. I look at the big picture. You need to work to make sure that Iran will not break out. You need to make sure that Iran and other countries will not be driven to develop nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

The key, frankly, is to make sure every country feels secure enough. Make sure that every country does not have the incentive to develop nuclear weapons.

That is much more complicated. That's creative diplomacy.

Broomby: Are sanctions working?

ElBaradei: You have different assessments. I think that maybe, sanctions are working in terms of reorganizing the deck in the domestic politics. I haven't seen change on national consensus in Iran.

Consensus in Iran is that they need to acquire enrichment. At the very least, this is the route to power, prestige and influence. Unfortunately they are not wrong. All the countries that have enrichment capability are major countries with quite an influence in the world. We need to break that cycle, the connection between enrichment, or fuel cycle and a deterrence. A lot of countries are thinking, if I have an enrichment capability, maybe it's good economically, definitely it's good to show my neighbour that I have the know how to develop a nuclear weapon with in a year's time.

Broomby: That would be a worrying factor if that was Iran's strategy.

ElBaradei: It is a worrying factor for Iran, it is a worrying factor for every other country. The issue of every country has the capability, as they do have the right under the NPT to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium. The fact that every country has a right to sit on an enrichment factory means that the security margin we have is very thin. Security perception could change over night.

If you look at East Asia, DPRK, the fact that North Korea developed its nuclear weapon had a lot implications, could have still a lot of implications on the neighbouring countries. A few months ago Japan said we are going to have a discussion on whether we could have a nuclear weapon or not.

The issue that was raised by Iran goes much beyond Iran.

We need to make sure all fuel cycle activities should be under multinational control. That is why I have been, as well as many others, working towards establishing multinational control over the fuel cycle to make sure that even if a country's perception of security has changed, that they do not have at their disposal nuclear materials that could be developed into a weapon.

The issue of Iran is a serious issue, but the issue of Iran raises a lot of more fundamental issues of the efficacy of the non-proliferation and arms control regime. We are trying to deal with both. I deal ex officio with the Iranian issue but I deal also as a public servant with the global picture and there is a lot we need to do more.

Broomby: Time out - beyond your brief?

ElBaradei: I don't think that I have any brief. I have a brief as an international civil servant, as a person who is responsible for managing, as Tony Blair mentioned recently and others, as the custodian of the non-proliferation regime. I don't want that regime to break down.

In fact this is part of the SC resolution in itself. I'm not bringing something new.

If Iran were to suspend we are ready to suspend. The resolution itself has this built in suspension for suspension clause.

What I am trying to develop with the other parties this minute is how we put that in place.
I think taking the high moral ground - who's right and who's wrong who's the criminal, who's the cop - that's fine if you are writing a academic dissertation.

What I am worried about right now is to avoid a confrontation or a war.

Broomby: Is that a fear for you?

ElBaradei: It is highly unlikely, and I hope it is highly unlikely but I don't want to see that to happen.

I thought Iraq was highly unlikely, well then we still have 700,000 people who have died.

I wake every morning and see 100 Iraqis - innocent civilians - are dying, I really don't have any sympathy, to say the least, for anyone who is saying that I'm working out of my brief.
I have no brief other than to make sure that we don't go into another war or we go crazy into killing each other.

Broomby: Do you think that bombing is on the agenda?

ElBaradei: I don't think so. All what I hear on the highest level.

Everybody is still committed to a peaceful solution.

But can I guarantee that? I can't. That's why I'm saying I want to avoid a confrontation to a point where you don't really have many other options.

You do not want to give additional argument to some of the new crazies who want to say, let us go and bomb Iran.

Broomby: Who are we talking about?

ElBaradei: I am talking about about all the extreme, the people who have extreme views whose only solution is to impose their will by force.

Broomby: Some members of the US regime have said this.

ElBaradei: I disagree. Now, I disagreed with them before. Unfortunately again, now we have to go through the painful experience of Iraq to show the limit of power, that the world has become too complex, too complicated, that you cannot impose your will simply by use of force. You really need to understand where people are coming from, you need to understand the root causes, and you need to adopt a pragmatic approach. You need to split the difference, you need to reconcile your differences.

Broomby: Are you accusing Pres. Bush or Amb. Schulte or US people who'd talked about being firm of being crazy?

ElBaradei: No, absolutely not. I am not talking about any of these people. People could be firm. I am firm, when I deal with Iran or any other. I am as firm as I can be. They also have to understand that they have to comply with legal obligation, to show transparency. They need to assist international community in resolving the issue.

It's not a question firmness; it's a question of approach. It's a question of how to go about things. You can be firm and pragmatic, and that's what I think I am.

I'm firm, I am trying to use all the tools in my tool kit and even more. But I also have to understand what is possible and what is not.

Broomby: As an Egyptian do you understand the mindset of the region better?


ElBaradei: I don't think so. I have spent more of my life in the west than in Egypt. I think frankly, the more you go around the more you understand - if I deal with a country in Latin America, in Africa or in the Middle East, all people's reaction is the same. People need to feel secure, people need to maintain their pride, people do not to lose face, people want to feel that they are being treated fairly, not unjustly.

Broomby: Does Iran want a Grand bargain?


ElBaradei: There's no question about that. I think the Iranians have been saying for years that they want a comprehensive Grand Bargain that takes account...the nuclear is the tip of the iceberg. They need to see trade normalization, they want to see diplomatic relations re-established, they want to be recognized as a regional power. It's a question of fundamentals, it's a question for competition for power in the Middle East. Iran's not the only player, there are a lot of Arab countries - the US, the Europeans. That's why the issues are much more complicated than just saying "Do as I tell you".

Both sides have a lot of assets, which can be used quite negatively or positively. Iran could be a very stabilizing power in Iraq, in Lebanon, in the Palestinian issue and also could also help destabilize the region. Both sides need each other to build a stable Middle East at peace with itself, and yet we we are completely stuck and not able to move toward negotiation.

It is not just me, I don't have that ex officio part of my jurisdiction. A lot of people are trying to find a way to get both parties back to the negotiating table through what ever Kabuki dance you could develop, without losing face.

Broomby: State of the NPT regime?

ElBaradei: It is not getting any better. In the least, it is faltering. The regime is shattering in many ways. Today when we are talking, for the last 10 days, the parties of the NPT could not even agree on an agenda as what to discuss. That's how dismal the state of affairs are.
The reasons are very obvious. We still live in a world that relies on nuclear weapons.

Any country who feels insecure, whether its Iran, DPRK or country X, is tempted to develop, possibly, nuclear weapons because they see the big boys continue to rely on nuclear weapons.

When you see the decision in the UK recently to modernize the Trident, I came out publicly right away, saying this sends absolutely the wrong message, because you cannot tell everybody nuclear weapons are not good for you but turn around and say, well the world is uncertain, the danger we can not foresee, and therefore we have to modernize our nuclear arsenal well into the 21st century, despite a clear commitment to move to nuclear disarmament at an "early date".

Broomby: You think we should abandon that?

ElBaradei: I think we need to see concrete actions to move toward nuclear disarmament. I understand that the UK has been one of the ones to reduce the most among the weapons states. But all the weapons states without exception, are modernizing their weapons. They are talking about even this cute word "mini nukes" that could be usable.

You are really sending a message to the rest of the world that if you want to protect yourself, develop your own weapon, if you don't want to develop your own weapon at least develop this enrichment capability.

So you still live in a world that fundamentally relies on nuclear weapons.

There is a lot of cynicism, why should we accept more additional obligation in terms of verification, in terms of controlling the fuel cycle while the major countries are continuing to have a free hand to use whatever nuclear weapon.....

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