[This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.]
It´s 11.00 a.m. here in Washington, 8.00 a.m. in Los Angeles and 6.00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you´re watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
The dispute between the United States and Iran ratcheted up even higher this past week with the Bush administration´s tough new sanctions against Iran´s Revolutionary Guard Corps and three key Iranian banks. The goal, to try to deter Iran from building nuclear arms, something Iran denies it is even pursuing.
Joining us now from New York for a "Late Edition" exclusive is the man who´s been monitoring Iran´s moves on the nuclear front. Mohamed ElBaradei is the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Dr. ElBaradei, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back to "Late Edition."
MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: Thank you very much, Wolf, for having me.
BLITZER: I want you to respond to this overall threat that the U.S. perceives comes from Iran, and listen to how President Bush the other day phrased it. Listen to this.
[Begin Video Clip]
[GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you´re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously].
[End Video Clip]
BLITZER: Is Iran, Dr. ElBaradei, building a nuclear bomb?
ELBARADEI: Well, Wolf, let me say three facts to put the Iranian nuclear issue in proper perspective. We are not talking about Iran today having a nuclear weapon as Secretary Rice said recently. Second, even if Iran were to be working on nuclear weapons, according to John Negroponte and Mike McConnell, they are at least a few years away from having such weapon. Thirdly, what we are doing right now is, through the IAEA and the European Union, Javier Solana, is to try to make sure that we control the nascent enrichment capability in Iraq and create the conditions for Iran and the Europeans, particularly the U.S., to go into negotiation.
So we are not talking about Iran having today a nuclear weapon. We are trying to make sure that the future intention of Iran is peaceful, and that´s really what we are talking about. Risk assessment of possible future intentions by Iran, if they have the technology to develop nuclear weapon. I say that because at this stage we need to continue to work through creative diplomacy. We have the time. Because I don´t see any other solution, Wolf, except through diplomacy and inspection.
BLITZER: Well, what about the - whether it is a few years down the road before they actually have a nuclear bomb, do you believe there is a clandestine, secret nuclear weapons program right now under way in Iran?
ELBARADEI: We haven´t seen any concrete evidence to that effect, Wolf. We haven´t received any information there is a parallel ongoing active nuclear weapon program. What we have seen in the past that certain procurements that have not been reported to us, certain experiments. And that´s where we are working now with Iran to clarify the past and the present, but I have not received any information that there is a complete active nuclear weapon program going on right now. And I think what - if you hear carefully what is being said about Iran, that Iran might - we suspect that Iran might have the intention, but I don´t think I have seen anybody saying Iran today is working actively on a weapon program. And if there are such information, I would be very happy to receive it and go for it - after it.
BLITZER: So, what you´re saying is the United States government has not provided you hard intelligence evidence that Iran is secretly working on this kind of nuclear weapons program.
ELBARADEI: We have information that there has been maybe some studies about possible weaponization. But we are looking into these alleged studies with Iran right now, and that´s why we have said that we cannot give Iran a pass right now, because there is still a lot of question marks.
But have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weaponization program? No. So there is a concern, but there is also time to clarify these concerns. And we should remember, Wolf, that this has - itÂ´s a question of distrust that has been going on for over - almost half a decade. So, the earlier we go to the negotiation mode between the U.S. and Iran, the better we can resolve the issue.
Sanctions have been applied and sanctions probably will continue to be applied, but as I have said before, and I think everybody agrees that sanctions alone will not lead to a durable solution. Even the security council is saying a durable solution has to be through a comprehensive package deal with Iran, where we discuss not only the nuclear issue but regional security, trade, technology. So, the earlier we use creative diplomacy to move toward such initiation of negotiation, the best for everybody.
BLITZER: Well, let me be precise, because what U.S. officials increasingly are saying now - and you certainly hear this from the Israelis as well - is there is a difference between actually having a nuclear bomb or having the knowledge to build a nuclear bomb? And they´re increasingly speaking about this threshold of once they have the capability of doing it, it is almost like actually doing it. Do you differentiate between those two points?
ELBARADEI: I do, Wolf. Because having the capability - there are at least 13, 14 countries who have the capability to enrich uranium. Because it is used also for peaceful purposes to develop fuel for power reactor. That is, frankly, a lacunae, a loophole in the system right now, and I´ve been calling for a number of years, including also President Bush and others, that we need to make sure that no one country should be able to have the enrichment capability or having the capability to also produce plutonium, because you are not very far from having a nuclear weapon should you decide to do that.
However, you know, having the enrichment capability and having a weapon is the wrong way to go. Iran right now has a nascent technology. What we are trying to do right now is keep that technology capability under an inspection. It is under an inspection. Which I urge Iran to suspend these activities to build confidence. I make sure that we have robust inspection. But until we go into the negotiating mode, until we discuss the global insecurity in a hotbed of stability which is the Middle East, I think we will continue to go into this gradually to a confrontation. I am very much concerned about confrontation, building confrontation, Wolf, because that would lead absolutely to a disaster. I see no military solution. The only durable solution is through negotiation and inspection.
BLITZER: Because the rhetoric coming from Washington, from top Bush administration officials, seems to be heating up. This is what the vice president, Dick Cheney, said last Sunday. Listen to this.
[Begin Video Clip]
[DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.]
[End Video Clip]
BLITZER: Is that kind of rhetoric helpful or hurtful to what youÂ´re trying to achieve?
ELBARADEI: Wolf, it is clearly a question of distrust between Iran and most of the international community, at least the west, the U.S. in particular. And to build confidence, you will not be able to do that through just exchanging rhetoric. You need to go and create a condition to go to the negotiating table. My fear that if we continue to escalate from both sides that we will end up into a precipice, we will end up into an abyss. As I said, the Middle East is in a total mess, to say the least. And we cannot add fuel to the fire.
Nobody wants Iran to have nuclear weapons. Nobody wants any country to have nuclear weapons. I think when you see Kissinger and Shultz and Perry and Sam Nunn saying we need to go toward abolition of nuclear weapons, I think everybody knows, it should be a wakeup call. We cannot continue to rely on nuclear weapons - anybody - because it has become decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous.
BLITZER: Because the U.S. position is - you know, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterates it. The U.S. will have negotiations with Iran, direct negotiations, but first the Iranians must stop enriching uranium. Is that a mistaken policy on the part of the U.S. government?
ELBARADEI: Well, this is the U.S. policy. I can´t really pass judgment on it. All I can say, Wolf, the earlier we go into negotiation, the earlier we follow the North Korean model, the better for everybody. Negotiation stopped with North Korea from five years. They ended up with nuclear weapons. They ended up with a nuclear test. You resume negotiation, now we see a positive result. I always compare between the Korean model and the Iraq model. And I believe that these security or insecurity issues can best - can only be resolved through negotiation.
BLITZER: Here´s what you said back in May in an interview with the BBC on May 8th. You said "you do not want to give additional argument to some of the ´new crazies´ who want to say let us go and bomb Iran." Who were you referring to when you spoke about the, quote, "new crazies"?
ELBARADEI: Well, I´m referring, Wolf, to anybody who is saying, "Let us use force right now," because I believe we still have ample time for diplomacy; and, B, I believe that force is in no way a solution to the problem. This is an issue of security and trust. You can only resolve that through negotiation. Using force can usually, in most cases, exacerbate the situation rather than improve it. It could even accelerate a drive by Iran, even if they are not working on a nuclear weapon today, to go for a nuclear weapon. So we can talk about use of force as and when we exhausted diplomacy, as and when we have no other alternative, as and when we think this is the best option. But we are far, far away from that stage. And I would hope that we should continue to stop spinning and hyping the Iranian issue because that´s an issue that could have a major conflagration, and not only regionally but globally.
BLITZER: Ahmadinejad - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly on September 25th, he said, "All our nuclear activities have been completely peaceful and transparent. I officially announce that in our opinion, the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed." Is that true, that all of their nuclear activities have been completely peaceful and transparent?
ELBARADEI: This is by no way the case - in no way the case, Wolf. The file is not closed. We are still very actively trying to reconstruct the history of Iran´s program to make sure that the past and present activities are exclusively peaceful. I have a team today in Iran working hard with the Iranian authorities to clarify the past. I need to make sure that the past and the present is clean, and then we need to work with them, the international community, to build confidence about their future intention. And that´s why I´m saying we need diplomacy and - but also we need an inspection and they need to work in tandem.
BLITZER: As you know, the Israelis, in early September, bombed some sort of facility in Syria that was suspected of being a nuclear reactor, maybe a nuclear reactor built on a North Korean model. I know you´ve seen these pictures. You´ve seen the before and the after. What´s your conclusion? Was this a nuclear reactor that the Syrians were building in their country based on a North Korean model?
ELBARADEI: Wolf, I´m very distressed, frankly, about this Syrian bombing because nobody - there had been chatter for the last few years. John Bolton three years ago went to testify before Congress and said there is concern about Syria. And yet, until today, we have not received information about any nuclear-related activities, clandestine nuclear-related activities in Syria. The bombing, again, happened, and we never, until today, received any piece of information. That to me is very distressful because we have a system. If countries have information that the country is working on a nuclear- related program, they should come to us. We have the authority to go out and investigate. But to bomb first and then ask questions later, I think it undermines the system and it doesn´t lead to any solution to any suspicion, because we are the eyes and ears of the international community. It´s only the agencies and inspectors who can go and verify the information.
If Syria were working on a nuclear program, a clandestine program, then we´d obviously be able to draw the consequences. But today I don´t know where to go. I didn´t get any information. I contacted the Syrians. They said this is a military facility, has nothing to do with nuclear. And I would hope if anybody has information before they take the law into their own hands, to come and pass the information on.
BLITZER: So what you´re suggesting, Dr. ElBaradei, is neither the Israelis nor the U.S. government - or for that matter, any other government - gave you any hard evidence to back up this claim that this was a North Korean modeled nuclear reactor.
ELBARADEI: Or any evidence at all. Not only hard evidence, Wolf.
BLITZER: I know you´ve seen some commercial satellite photos though of the before and after. Are there any conclusions you can draw based on what you´ve seen in those satellite photos?
ELBARADEI: These are commercial satellite photos that we procured ourselves, has not been providing to us. And we´re still investigating them. We´re still comparing the pre and after. But in addition to us buying commercial photos, I would very much hope that countries will come forward if they have information so weÂ´ll do - go through a due process.
BLITZER: We´re almost out of time, but based on the commercial photos that you´ve seen from these satellite reconnaissance, are there any conclusions that you and your team have been able to come up with?
ELBARADEI: Not at this stage, Wolf. Not at all.
BLITZER: All right, and so it would be premature to allege that North Korea was proliferating in cooperation with the Syrians? Is that what you´re saying as well?
ELBARADEI: That´s correct.
BLITZER: Because I want to play a little clip of what the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, told me here on "Late Edition" last Sunday. Listen to this.
[Begin Video Clip]
[REP. PETER HOEKSTRA, R-MICH.: If North Korea or if Iran or other countries were involved in Syria, it, again, will be an indicator of what kind of agreement they will make and whether they would be willing to adhere to the agreements that they make in public.]
[End Video Clip]
BLITZER: Because he certainly seemed to be concerned, and heÂ´s among a handful of members of the U.S. Congress who have been briefed by the Bush administration on what the Israelis did in Syria. He seems to suggest that you can´t trust the North Koreans at all because they´ve been cheating on their promises. I take it youÂ´re not willing to go that far by a long shot.
ELBARADEI: I can´t because I don´t have any evidence to support that assumption, Wolf.
BLITZER: Would you like the Israelis to brief you on what they know?
ELBARADEI: Absolutely, or anybody who has information. But you canÂ´t trust anybody. We don´t work on the base of trust. But we - as President Reagan said, "trust and verify." And what I want very much is to be able to verify whether Syria, in fact, were working on a nuclear power program in a clandestine way or not. And the only way to do that is get information and to go out and verify.
BLITZER: You have a lot of credibility in these areas, Dr. ElBaradei, because before the war started with Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein, you were contradicting the Bush administration, insisting there was absolutely no evidence that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program. Do you feel vindicated as a result of that, as you go into this next round of fears that Iran may be developing some sort of nuclear weapons program?
ELBARADEI: Well, Wolf, I don´t necessarily feel vindicated. I feel relieved that we discovered that Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. I feel also that people now should listen to us, because we have no hidden agenda. All we want to do is bring the facts out. We should not take decisions that has to do - that crucial to war around peace before we are able 100 percent to make sure that the information on the basis we are working are accurate and professional.
BLITZER: Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei is the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Dr. ElBaradei, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you and your entire team.
ELBARADEI: Thank you very much, Wolf. Keep well.
BLITZER: Thank you.