CNN Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei

November 26, 2003

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our work in Iran is very much work in progress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have committed ourselves to sign the additional protocol, and that's what we are going to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is one particular paragraph in the resolution, which makes it very, very clear that if Iran does not now comply with its obligations, and the other agreements that it's entered into, then that will be a matter that will be immediately referred to the IAEA board of governors for action.

VERJEE: The U.N. nuclear watchdog sends what it calls a serious and ominous message to Iran. Now, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, answers our questions and yours on this edition of Q&A.


VERJEE: Welcome to Q&A. After intense negotiations, Britain, France and Germany brokered a deal with the United States to condemn Iran's nuclear program, but not to refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council. That was approved by the International Atomic and Energy Agency's board of governors. The director general of the IAEA, apparently pleased, says, the resolution strengthens his hand in dealings with Iran.

With us from Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the IAEA. We are also opening up the phone lines for your questions. You can call us now at 404-827-1010.

Mr. ElBaradei, good to have you on Q&A. The resolution condemning violations of the past by Iran, stopping short of referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council, and also praising a new spirit of cooperation by Iran. Are you trying to keep both the United States, Britain, the Europeans all happy?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: I think that the resolution is very clear that the international community is deploring all the undeclared activities by Iran in the past. But the resolution also says that we would like to give Iran one more chance to come clean. And they are laying out a marker that Iran has to completely come -- in around about face, and make a full disclosure of all its activities -- with a very clear message, that if Iran were not to cooperate fully, and in a transparent manner with the agency, then there would be serious consequences through sending the issue to the Security Council.

I think that's basically the gist of the resolution. So we are concerned about the past but we'd like to give you a future to correct your activities and declare everything and make sure through verification that your program is exclusively for peaceful purpose.

VERJEE: Why such concern then about the past if you want to move to the future?

ELBARADEI: Well, because we need to keep the integrity of the non- proliferation regime there. What Iran has been doing is lots of experiments, undeclared experiment has to do with producing weapon usable material. They were supposed to have declared these activities to the agency way back. They did not do that. And the international community is saying, well, we are concerned, because this should not have happened. We deplore this past breeches of your obligation, and we need you to make urgently corrective action, and we are going to watch that very closely.

They asked me to report by February back to the board and saying if any serious failure were to appear in the future that the board will need immediately and look all -- to all actions, obviously including reporting to Security Council.

So, they are saying, we'll give you a chance if you cooperate, and as you are cooperating now, but if we do not see full-fledged cooperation, then other options will be looked at.

VERJEE: You said that this resolution strengthens your hand. "It strengthens my hand" were your exact words. Do you need then your hands to be strengthened if Iran, as this resolution is saying, as you've said, has embraced a new policy of openness, transparency?

ELBARADEI: Sure, I need at all times to have my hand strengthened, when I am in that type of situation, Zain. Iran's record in the past was not the best record. It was marred by concealment. They turned around in the last few weeks. Now they committed themselves to a policy of full disclosure, but I need to make sure that that policy is sustained in the long whole.

And that's why I needed that resolution to send a very clear message to Iran: Yes, we understand that you have now turned around, but we want to make sure that that new policy is sustained, is implemented fully, so we can through verification come to the bottom of your program, and I should be able some time in the future to assure the international community that Iran activities are all for peaceful purpose.

VERJEE: So you are absolutely convinced and satisfied that Iran will cooperate in the future, there will be complete transparency and openness?

ELBARADEI: I have so. But as I kept saying on a number of occasions, the jury is still out, you know. We still have a lot of work to do. We haven't seen any proof that this is a weapon -- nuclear weapon program, but we cannot also say at the same time that this is a program dedicated exclusively for peaceful purposes. We still have a lot of work to do, and I can only do that work with absolute full cooperation on the part of Iran.

VERJEE: You are in a very delicate position, Mr. ElBaradei. Do you find yourself in your position faced by the positions of the United States, Britain, Europe, before this compromise resolution, really being forced to play more politics than you would like?

ELBARADEI: I am not sure they are not playing politics. Well, there are different political trends coming from different directions, and I, of course, have to be aware of these trends. But I have to maneuver my way with the end game in sight. And the end game is to make sure that Iran program as declared to us is for peaceful purpose.

So, I have to focus on our technical activities, but I have also to be aware of the different political trends. And frankly, a lot of that is just perceptions. It's a question of how much you can use incentive versus disincentive, how much you can use pressure versus rewards, and that's really what has been happening in the last few days.


VERJEE: Do you think that that -- politics -- that, excuse me, the maneuvering that you're forced to be involved in or be aware of, takes away from the work that you, the IAEA, needs to do, the scientific work, and get on with that?

ELBARADEI: No. I think our scientific work, our technical work continues as before. We know what we need to do to verify the activities in Iran. The politics, if you like, supporting our verification. I mean, what we have been doing throughout the last weeks is a mixture of verification and diplomacy. Diplomacy in support of verification, verification in support of diplomacy. And I think so far, we have -- we have turned -- we have -- we are, in fact, very much on the right track. We still have a lot of work to do.

Today resolution, I think, is a very much of a step forward. The international community is very mindful of what needs to be done, but they want to give peace a chance. They want still to work within the international setting, and they would like to make sure that integrity of non-proliferation is preserved.

VERJEE: The resolution, though, falls far short from initial U.S. demands to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council immediately. How hard was it to get the U.S. to back them (ph) on that position?

ELBARADEI: Well, I don't -- there was all along -- I mean others wanted to make sure that Iran understand the need -- the serious nature of the situation. They wanted to understand that Iran is aware that if they do not cooperate fully, there will be consequences, there will be pressure.

And I think at the end of the day, the U.S. has also eased (ph) to the majority view that since Iran is cooperating now, there is no need to go to Security Council at this time. You usually go to Security Council if you want -- if the country is not cooperating.

But what we see right now is full Iran -- Iranian cooperation, and I think the majority of members have said, let us wait, it is Security Council option is over there, but if Iran is cooperating on its own volition, let us -- let us keep the Security Council option as a last resort.

VERJEE: The United States, though, was to some degree pacified by one close -- essentially considered a trigger mechanism, that reads: "If any further Iranian failures come to light, the board of governors would need immediately to consider all options at its disposal." Does that mean an automatic referral to the U.N. Security Council?

ELBARADEI: It's not an automatic referral. The board of the agency has to meet, but I think the message is very clear, that the international community will not tolerate any additional serious failures on the part of Iran, that if I were to report additional noncompliance cases or breeches or whatever, or violation, the likelihood is that the board will refer the matter to the Security Council. And I think that's what the U.S. were after, a clear message to Iran that enough is enough, no more breeches are going to be tolerated in the future.

VERJEE: All right. Going into this, Mr. ElBaradei, did you see a similar situation to that of Iraq beginning to emerge?

ELBARADEI: Well, somewhat. I think we are on the level of an inspection. The jury is still out, as it were in Iraq when our -- inspections came to a halt, and I think in the case of Iran today, the international community wants to give verification and diplomacy a chance. I think the international community does not want to jump to conclusions. I think we have learned from Iraq that it might not be a good idea to jump to conclusions, particularly on an issue that has to do with war and peace.

And so I think we are learning some lessons from Iraq. I think there are useful lessons, in fact. And as long as we are inching forward, as long as we are moving forward, we should exploit every possibility to resolve the issue through diplomacy and verification, before (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...


ELBARADEI: ... Security Council or any other enforcement measures.

VERJEE: When is Iran, Mr. ElBaradei, going to sign that additional protocol that gives inspectors unfettered access to all the nuclear sites? Have you discussed that? Have they given you a date, a possible date?

ELBARADEI: Not yet, Zain. I think they should do it fairly soon. However, I am assured that even until they do that, Iran will act, additional protocol is enforced, and I'm acting on the assumption that as from today, Iran will give us all the right of access, all the right of all the information we need, as if the protocol is enforced.

In light of Iran's past behavior, we need all the transparency, all the access rights we can get before we can -- before we can bring that issue to closure. So I am acting on the assumption that Iran will be absolutely cooperating in every sense.

VERJEE: Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaking to us from Vienna, many thanks.