Newsweek Interview with Director General Mohamed ElBaradei (Excerpts)

October 20, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran
  • North Korea

. . .

ELBARADEI: If I look at the problems that we are facing right now - the Korean situation, the Iran situation - these problems hinge, in my view, on the parties sitting together. We need to move away from the idea that dialogue is a "reward" for good behavior. You need dialogue when you have bad behavior, because the purpose of the dialogue is to change the behavior. As former [U.S.] secretary of State James Baker said recently, talking to your enemy is not appeasement.

NEWSWEEK: Some American politicians say you´re biased or, at a minimum, soft on countries like Iran.

ELBARADEI: This agency stands on its integrity and it will vanish if we lose our integrity. I shudder whenever I see anybody touching on our impartiality or dignity.

NEWSWEEK: Many U.S. officials and analysts now take it as a given that Iran - despite repeated denials - has a nuclear weapons program. But you say you´ve never proved that.

ELBARADEI: No. You see people confuse knowledge, industrial capacity and intention. The fact that Iran has knowledge, now, with regards to enrichment, there is no question about it and we proved a lot of that through our extensive inspections. We haven´t seen, however, this knowledge translated into industrial capacity; that is, the ability to produce the material for nuclear weapons.

A lot of what you see about Iran right now is assessment of intentions. I saw recently a statement by [U.S. Director of National Intelligence John D.] Negroponte which was interesting in two ways: he says that Iran could have nuclear weapons between 2010 and 2015. So we are really talking about four to nine years, which in a way supports our assessment that they are not there yet, close to a nuclear weapon. And that is why we don´t see a clear and present danger that we have to address tomorrow, and we have ample time to negotiate. But Negroponte also said that [the United States] believes that [the Iranians] have the intention to develop a nuclear weapon. And I´ve been saying that this agency cannot get into reading intentions. We are not equipped to deal with that, and intentions can change overnight.

NEWSWEEK: Surely Iran´s behavior doesn´t inspire confidence.

ELBARADEI: The jury is still out. Remember, Iran´s program started in the middle of the Iraq war in 1985. Did they then have the intention [to make nuclear weapons] and then dropped it? We came in with inspections and the international circumstances changed. Do they have the intention to pursue a nuclear weapon, or are they simply hedging their bet by developing their enrichment capability?

These are different difficult issues. But one of the lessons we learned from Iraq is that we really need to be very, very careful coming to conclusions because these issues make the difference between war and peace. And as long as I know - and I am supported by all intelligence agencies in this - that Iran in the worst-case scenario is still a few years away, I have ample time to talk to them, I have ample time to negotiate with them, and I need to encourage them to cooperate with me.

. . .