Interview with Director General Mohamed ElBaradei

"The Jury is Still Out"
November 24, 2003

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Is Iran trying to make an atomic bomb? The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that there is "no evidence" of such a program, though Iran is developing relevant technology and has shown a "pattern of concealment" over the past 18 years. At this week's IAEA meeting, officials will decide whether to declare Iran in noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and refer it to the U.N. for possible action, as the U.S. wants, or reprimand but continue to work with it, as the U.K., France and Germany prefer. TIME's Andrew Purvis spoke to IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei.

TIME: Iran's nuclear program doens't look like a typical civilian power project. Does anybody believe it is for peaceful purposes?

ELBARADEI: It's not a question of belief or disbelief. Iran is saying it is willing to come clean. We got answers to all our questions. We got access to the facilities. We are getting robust inspections. But this is a work in progress.

TIME: U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton called your finding of no evidence "impossible to believe".

ELBARADEI: We are not in the business of judging intentions. What we look for are facts and proof, and so far we have no proof of a nuclear-weapons program. The jury is still out.

TIME: Tehran has explained the discovery of weapons-grade uranium traces as the result of contaminated equipment. Is that true?

ELBARADEI: We are closer [to an answer]. We now know where the components that Iran says were contaminated came from. Our next priority is to go after the countries where they came from and talk to the governments. There are five, in Europe and Asia.

TIME: Should Iran be referred to the UN Security Council?

ELBARADEI: The Security Council's basic function is to ensure compliance with the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], and right now we are seeing compliance by Iran.

TIME: Do we need the U.N. to control nuclear capabilities?

ELBARADEI: Unless you are ready to bomb your way through every country you suspect of developing weapons of mass destruction, I see no alternative to international inspectors. The lesson of Iraq is that we should be very cautious about jumping to conclusions. The U.S. says you no longer have a role In Iraq. We could close the nuclear file faster than the U.S. team. We have the experience. We know where to go. We know the scientists. And we have credibility.