Transcript of the Director General Mohamed ElBaradei interview with Suddeutsche Zeitung (Excerpts)

September 25, 2008

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

[Translated from German]


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SZ: Iran too says it only wants to produce cheap electricity with its nuclear programme. Aren´t there various motives inseparably entwined here?

ELBARADEI: Unfortunately, we still live in a world where nuclear weapons hold out the promise of power and prestige. Even the nuclear powers still rely heavily on nuclear weapons in their security strategies. If one is striving for power or security against attack, it is tempting to develop nuclear weapons or at least the capability to develop them. That is why I say that the Iran question is, in the last analysis, a security problem. The nuclear programme is just a symptom of an underlying feeling of insecurity and the desire to be acknowledged as a power in the region. So, in my opinion, the nuclear dispute can only be solved through direct negotiations on regional security in the Middle East.

SZ: You are asking for direct negotiations between the USA and Iran?

ELBARADEI: Of course, Europe isn´t in the driving seat, the USA is. The sooner there are direct negotiations, the sooner there will be a prospect of finding a solution. But that will not work without identifying Iran´s role in the region and the role of other countries in the Middle East. And of course there is still the big problem: Israel´s nuclear programme. Everything has to be put on the table, the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians as well. Only a comprehensive solution will open up the prospect of development for the region, allowing action to be taken against the growing radicalism which one day could end in nuclear terrorism.

SZ: In your report it says that Iran is gaining an ever greater mastery of uranium enrichment. Can the USA and Israel accept the fact that Iran is on the threshold of becoming a virtual nuclear power?

ELBARADEI: The question is, what can they do? What are the alternatives to direct negotiations? As long as we are monitoring their facilities, they cannot develop nuclear weapons. And they still do not have the ingredients to make a bomb overnight.

SZ: It´s a matter of months.

ELBARADEI: Above all, it is a matter of risk assessment. I cannot read minds as to whether Iran will really build a nuclear weapon sometime.

SZ: Isn´t that, if Iran goes beyond a certain point, precisely the grounds for a military solution?

ELBARADEI: I am afraid there is no military solution. That would only lead to all of Iran, even the opposition, uniting behind the government and its nuclear programme. More important still, it would give Iran the justification for a crash course in building nuclear weapons. They would simply barricade themselves in and resuscitate the enrichment programme. The knowledge is there; you cannot take it out of people´s heads even with bombs. You could perhaps delay Iran developing nuclear weapons, if that is what Tehran really has in mind. But Iran might have realized that it is enough to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons. In the event of an attack, we would be confronted with a much worse problem in a couple of years. And an attack would turn the whole region into a fireball.

SZ: The USA has its reasons for declining negotiations. Iran´s involvement in terrorism...

ELBARADEI: If the USA will sit at the negotiating table with North Korea, a regime that is not seen as being the most democratic and that also already has nuclear weapons, I do not see why it cannot negotiate with Iran.

SZ: Both the USA and the UN Security Council are demanding that Iran come to heel.

ELBARADEI: If you believe in diplomacy, you have to talk to your opponents not your friends. The idea that you can effectively isolate countries does not work, and usually you achieve the opposite of the desired effect. The only option I can see is negotiations.

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