Sky News Interview with Director General Mohamed ElBaradei

January 9, 2006

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Related Country: 

  • Iran

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: understanding that they are, that they want to go for mechanical testing of some centrifuges that does not involve nuclear material, so it doesn´t really actually go into enrichment of the material so to say. However, as I have been saying, suspension has been a very important part of confidence-building. We are still going through a number of issues to clarify Iran´s nuclear past and the international community, the Board of Governors of the IAEA, the Member States have stated very clearly that maintaining the suspension of enrichment related activities is an important confidence-building measure, so I would again hope that Iran will understand that while they have the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful use because of the past undeclared activities, because of the unresolved issues, it is important right now to build as much confidence before they go to exercise, as they say, the right. Nobody is questioning the right, but it is a question really of confidence right now after many years of declared activities, but can Iran now immediately now start going into enrichment, particularly that there is no urgent economic need for such activity, because they have only one reactor which they have not yet been operating and the Russians have committed to provide all the fuel they need for that, for that reactor.

SKY NEWS: With the new President in Iran having said things which have outraged the international community, do you think it´s harder to have Iran establish the confidence that is so critical? Has it been a more difficult period for you and for your colleagues at the board of governors at the IAEA, to have confidence in Iran when the President is saying such outrageous things?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think that this statement did not help the confidence-building process, that´s for sure, judging by the reaction from every corner of the world. I think at this stage we need both sides, Iran and Europe and the US, everybody needs to stretch a hand to each other. These are complex issues, the Middle East is the worst situation it is placed right now in terms of security, so we do not want to add oil to the fire right now. I think we need to see how we can gradually build the confidence. The nuclear issue is one issue, we still have many issues, we still have Iraq, we still have the Palestinian issue, we still have Afghanistan and I think we just can´t afford to have additional confrontation in that region. I would shudder to think of the consequences so people need to think hard before they embark on any process of confrontation.

SKY NEWS: If Iran does follow through on its threat to do some testing that would improve its capability to enrich uranium, do you think at that point it would be appropriate for the United Nations Security Council to threaten sanctions or take other action?

ELBARADEI: Well, this is a judgement call by the member states of the IAEA. I think a couple of months ago they did say that Iran is non-compliant with its non-proliferation obligation, they did say that they would at a certain point in time report to the Security Council. They said however that the nature and the timing of the report depend on Iran´s co-operation so if Iran were to move unravelling the suspension, what I heard from the Europeans, what I hear from other, is that they want to move ahead with reporting to the Security Council. The key is not [inaudible] Jamie, the key is how to contain this crisis, how to resolve the crisis, how to ensure a balance between Iran´s right use of technology for peaceful purposes and the international community´s legitimate right to be satisfied that that programme is for a peaceful purpose. There are two parallel tracks that are going on right now, the first is the Agency verification and there are still a number of important issues where I have not been able to make progress and I still need very much Iran´s transparency and Iran´s active co-operation. There are a number of issues that...

SKY NEWS: Centrifuges first of all.

ELBARADEI: Centrifuges, the nature of that programme, a number of important issues that has to do with the nature of the programme and I cannot continue to say at every Board meeting that I still need more time, we have been doing that for three years and I have been telling the Iranians recently...

SKY NEWS: You are running out of patience with them.

ELBARADEI: I am running out of patience, the international community is running out of patience, the credibility of the verification process is at stake and I´d like come March, which is my next report, to be able to clarify these issues.

SKY NEWS: To achieve that solution requires drawing a very delicate line between what is permitted by the Iranians in the area of, let´s call it pure research, and what is prohibited because it raises questions about the ability to enrich uranium. Drawing that line is the key to a successful negotiation. Where would you draw the line on permitted research for Iran? For example, would you draw the line that they could use some centrifuges but not so many that they could enrich uranium to a high level?

ELBARADEI: Well, the issue is very complex, Jamie, because as a matter of law Iran has the right to do all the nuclear activities, including enriching uranium, but that´s another issue where I have been bringing that issue to the attention of the international community saying in fact that we need to revisit the whole non-proliferation regime that not Iran or any other country should continue to have a full exclusive right to enrich uranium.

SKY NEWS: You agree on that line internationally?

ELBARADEI: Exactly, because if every country were to have an enrichment factory, that means they are really a few months away from a nuclear weapon which is a very thin margin of security. However, as a matter of law Iran has that right, nobody is questioning Iran´s right similar to everybody else, what people are saying is because of the history of the Iranian programme, because of the confidence deficit that has been created, we need to go through a transitional period meaning that Iran should not go now into an enrichment programme but make sure that Iran will get all its needs for civilian purposes through outside supply. The Russians have been making a very interesting proposal that they will establish a joint venture with Iran, the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia who I just talked to this morning is going there over the weekend to discuss with Iran the Russian proposal and the Russian proposal in no way takes away Iran´s rights, it is simply saying let us go through a transitional period whereby we can build confidence, Iran can build confidence by which we will enrich in Russia, in the context of a joint venture, and let´s review that in say five, ten years from now. So I think that´s an excellent proposal.

SKY NEWS: Based on your knowledge and discussions with diplomats around the world, do you think that the Russian proposal, if accepted by Iran, a basis for a solution?

ELBARADEI: Very much so. I think everybody looks at the Russian proposal as a very intelligent compromise by which Iran´s rights are preserved, by which Iran´s needs are satisfied, also by which the international community will get a breathing space by which Iran will have to prove through its actions that it is restoring the confidence that its lost in the light of its undeclared activities in the past.

SKY NEWS: To take it to the bigger picture then, if Russia´s proposal is not agreed to by Iran, in your judgement will the Russians feel they have given diplomacy enough of a chance and will they move to the camp of the British and the French and the Germans and the United States in supporting an action by the Security Council?

ELBARADEI: I´ll leave that for the Russians to answer, Jamie, but I know for sure that everybody is really losing patience, you know. Everybody would like to see that process come to a close, everybody would like to see us clarifying the remaining issues, everybody would like to see a regime by which the international community is assured that the Iranian programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes and there are still a number of issues we are looking at. There is also a consensus that enrichment in Russia..., in Iran right now is a matter of serious concern. These are the parameters, but within these parameters I think there is enough room for negotiation and acceptable solutions.

SKY NEWS: But in order to have that negotiation succeed, I think the rule number one in international diplomacy is that you need to have carrots, incentives, and you need to have sticks, disincentives. In your judgement, are there sufficient sticks and carrots? Is the language of the international community both on the positive side, if you agree to this proposal we will improve relations with you, we will solve problems in the region but if you don´t agree we will take firm action. Is the international community in your judgement applying enough leverage, enough incentives and enough disincentives?

ELBARADEI: You need to provide incentives, carrots, and the carrots are important. Iran has been subject to sanctions for twenty years, I mean I think they need to see that as a result of a package solution sanctions are lifted, they have an ageing [inaudible] fleet as you know, they need spare parts, they need a trade agreement with Europe. There are, on the other side, a number of concerns about human rights issues, about having on the...

SKY NEWS: Terrorism, supporting terrorism.

ELBARADEI: ...of grievances on both sides and Iran is very much interested in Western technology, nuclear power technology. All the parties need to understand that they need to put on the table all their grievances and also they have to...

SKY NEWS: You think we need more incentives?

ELBARADEI: I think we need more incentives, that´s why I also have been saying for a while that at a certain stage the US has to be engaged because frankly a major incentive is security. We just talked about the Middle East, the Middle East is the most insecure place on earth right now, Iran is part of that region, Iran is a powerful member of that region, Iran needs to be accepted as an important regional player, Iran needs to be provided the security assurances that it is entitled to and I believe only when you come to a discussion of security that you need to be engaged because Europe cannot provide that type of security, it really is the US. I hope at the end we will see something similar to what we see in North Korea, all the concerned parties including the US sitting around the table and addressing all the issues that are required to be addressed to have a comprehensive solution. That could only happen if there is a movement at least between Iran and Europe and unfortunately that´s not, that´s still going through fits and starts. There is supposed to be a meeting between Iran and Europe on the 18th of this month, I´m not sure that meeting will take place, I´ve talked to some of the European partners and they are very concerned about the recent announcement by Iran so I don´t know if that meeting will take place. It will be unfortunate if that meeting will not take place because a rupture in the dialogue I think would not really help the long-term process then and if we start moving into escalation - and that is possible, that is not excluded at all, I mean a possible move as we discussed might be a move to report to the Security Council.

SKY NEWS: If we don´t have a solution, if you are unable to succeed in slowing the Iranian programme, the US intelligence community has estimated that Iran is likely to have a nuclear weapon early in the next decade, 2011, 2012, five or six years from now. Do you concur on that assessment?

ELBARADEI: It is difficult to put a time frame on it, Jamie, and again the good news on that at least that it is not a clear and present danger that we have to face tomorrow so we have ample room. When we talk about Security Council we talk about enforcement. I have always taken the view that if we can avoid escalation, if we can avoid sanctions, enforcement measures, that obviously is much better because then you are getting, as I said, an agreed solution and not an enforced solution, but I do not exclude at any time on any issue that if there is no possibility for a peaceful solution that you need to use the arsenal that the Security Council has in its quiver, so on the question of timing, again developing a nuclear weapon requires two things, it requires nuclear material, that you have the nuclear material. Without the nuclear material you cannot have a nuclear weapon.

SKY NEWS: That´s the key thing.

ELBARADEI: That´s the key, absolutely, to have the enriched uranium and that´s why the international community is concerned now about Iran enriching uranium now, because they will have the capability to have that material in a matter of months and that´s a concept. Of course another part is of course how to weaponise this material. That is still difficult but not as...

SKY NEWS: The hard part is the materials.

ELBARADEI: The hard part is the material. If Iran doesn´t have the material, and we have seen no indication that they have undeclared nuclear material that can go into any weapon, then putting a time frame on it is really difficult, but as long as Iran is suspending the enrichment activities, as long as Iran is suspending the enrichment activities, as long as we are going through an inspection and have not found any indication that they have the nuclear material, then I don´t think that we ought to talk about a time frame for developing nuclear weapons.

SKY NEWS: Mohamed ElBaradei, recent winner of Nobel Peace Prize, congratulations and thank you for joining us.

ELBARADEI: Thank you very much for having me, Jamie.