IAEA: Washington Post interview with ElBaradei - 1-30-05



January 30, 2005


It is no secret that the Bush administration does not want to see Mohamed ElBaradei win a third term as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog. The administration views ElBaradei as too soft on Iran and too hard on Israel. But the real source of the administration´s irritation may be ElBaradei´s correct assessment before the war that there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq. In an interview with The Washington Post-Newsweek´s Lally Weymouth at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week, ElBaradei, 62, discussed his frosty relationship with the administration and his goals for a third term - curbing Iran´s nuclear program, possibly engaging with North Korea and making sure that nuclear equipment has not fallen into terrorist hands.


WEYMOUTH: Are you going to run for a third term?


WEYMOUTH: Why does the U.S. want to get rid of you?

ELBARADEI: They say they believe in a two-term policy for heads of international organizations, but most other countries have asked me to continue because we are in the middle of a war and we have a lot of important issues: Iran is still a major issue, and as for North Korea - I´d like to see some progress there before I go.

WEYMOUTH: Before the war, you said Iraq had no nuclear weapons. Is this what the administration has against you?

ELBARADEI: I don´t know. Someone told me it is dangerous to be wrong but even more dangerous to be right. Frankly, I think we can ill afford to be distracted by the issue of who is going to be Director General.

WEYMOUTH: Now the Bush administration is arguing that you are not tough enough on Iran. Your reaction?

ELBARADEI: It depends how you define soft. The results in Iran are something I am quite proud of. Eighteen months ago, Iran was a black box - we didn´t know much about what was happening. Now, we have a fairly good picture of what is happening. We understand how complex and extensive that program is. Through our tenacity, Iran´s facilities that could produce fissile material are frozen. And we are still going everywhere we think we need to go to be sure there are no undeclared activities in Iran. Between our tenacious verification and the diplomatic process, I hope we will be able to get a package solution in Iran, which is what we want to have with North Korea.

WEYMOUTH: U.S. experts say that Iran has cheated and lied about its nuclear program, and continues to do so.

ELBARADEI: Iran has clearly cheated in the past - that is something we reported. Corrective action was taken. Now, they say they are embarking on a new path of cooperation and since then they are cooperating. If they are still cheating, we haven´t seen any evidence of that... When they cheated, we said so. When they are cooperating, we say so. We have been supervising their suspension of fuel cycle activities. Recently, we got access to a partial military site.

WEYMOUTH: How can Iran justify its full nuclear fuel cycle as part of a peaceful program?

ELBARADEI: They gave the Europeans a presentation on this, [saying] they plan for a large nuclear power program. They probably can make a technical justification. The argument they also make is that they have been isolated so they have to be self-sufficient. That´s why the European dialogue is important. If a country felt its needs were going to be satisfied, they might not have to go for an independent fuel cycle.

WEYMOUTH: What is the timeline for Iran getting a nuclear weapon?

ELBARADEI: It depends on whether they have been doing weaponization. We haven´t seen signs of that. But they have the know-how. If they resume the fuel cycle, they should be able to get the fissile material within a year or two. If they have that, they are a year away from a weapon. It´s a matter of time, because they have the know-how and the industrial infrastructure.

WEYMOUTH: What is the best way to stop Iran from going nuclear?

ELBARADEI: You need inspections, but you need to also work with them diplomatically. If a country is suspected of going nuclear, you need to understand why. Why does it feel insecure? You need to address [Iran´s] sense of isolation and its need for technology and economic [benefits]. They have been under sanctions for 20 years.

WEYMOUTH: What role should the U.S. play?

ELBARADEI: I´d like to see the Americans join a dialogue either with the Europeans or directly with the Iranians. I don´t think you will get a permanent solution of the Iranian issue without full U.S. engagement. The U.S. can´t afford to sit on the fence. There´s a lot at stake having to do with security of the [Persian] Gulf and the Middle East. The U.S. engages with North Korea so I don´t see why they can´t engage with Iran.

WEYMOUTH: There is talk of a U.S. strike against the Iranian nuclear program.

ELBARADEI: The Europeans are engaging Iran. Thus, talk about military activities at this stage is very unhelpful. I cannot see how a military solution can resolve the Iran issue. In my view, with Iran having [reached] almost self-sufficiency in the technology, the Iranians will go underground... You might delay them, but they will rebuild it with the objective of having a weapon.

WEYMOUTH: Does the fact that Israel has a nuclear weapon drive Iran to acquire one?

ELBARADEI: They say there is a security imbalance, but Iran also looks at Pakistan, Russia and Iraq... More and more countries are trying to acquire nuclear weapons or nuclear know-how. So [either] there are going to be 20 or 30 countries with nuclear weapons, or we must move to say nuclear weapons are a recipe for disaster and we need a security system that does not rely on them.

WEYMOUTH: You have an idea on how to stop countries from getting complete fuel cycles - the key to a nuclear program?

ELBARADEI: I argue that for every country to have an independent fuel cycle is the wrong way to go. Because any country which has a complete fuel cycle is a latent nuclear weapons country, in the sense that it is not far from making a nuclear weapon. What I propose is to give countries that need nuclear energy for peaceful purposes both the reactors and the necessary technology, but to have the fuel cycles controlled through international entities to make sure that the spent fuel is removed [so it couldn´t be enriched or reprocessed to make nuclear weapons].

WEYMOUTH: It has been reported that the U.S. Department of Defense has teams on the ground in Iran. Should they be turning over their intelligence information to you?

ELBARADEI: We have not been getting any new information on Iran recently. We have followed up all intelligence that came to us. Without intelligence, we have to rely only on our activities on the ground and in a large country like Iran, it is difficult.

WEYMOUTH: The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty comes up for review in May. Negotiations are said to be in disarray. Your view?

ELBARADEI: I am discouraged that I have not seen much substantive preparation for that conference. People are tinkering around the edges, but we have not seen serious discussions on substance.

WEYMOUTH: The U.S. Department of Energy was interested in doing research on nuclear bunker busters and other nuclear equipment.

ELBARADEI: That sent the wrong message - you can´t tell everyone "don't touch nuclear weapons" while continuing to build them.

WEYMOUTH: Egypt has been reported as engaging in experiments with nuclear materials.

ELBARADEI: As the Egyptian government said recently, there was a failure in reporting certain experiments, but they do not have a weapons program... It comes back to a sense of frustration - a sense of instability. As part of the peace process, we must engage in a parallel security dialogue. You will not get peace simply by saying here is a Palestinian state. You need a security structure undergirding the peace process, dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

WEYMOUTH: Are you saying that frustration over the Palestinian issue has led to Egypt´s experimenting in nuclear technology?

ELBARADEI: No, I am saying there is a sense of a security imbalance in the Middle East.

WEYMOUTH: Because Israel has a nuclear weapon?

ELBARADEI: There´s a lot of frustration because Israel is outside the [nuclear non-proliferation] regime. Egypt should not have done this. South Korea also did some undeclared experiments recently.

WEYMOUTH: Do you believe some terrorist groups have actually acquired nuclear materials?

ELBARADEI: It is a real possibility. If it were to happen, it would have disastrous consequences - a terror group could acquire a stolen nuclear weapon, or enough material to develop a crude nuclear weapon. We know there has been a lot of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials - even some kilogram quantities of highly enriched uranium.

WEYMOUTH: Do you think a terror group actually has a nuclear device?

ELBARADEI: I cross my fingers... but I cannot say 100 percent that it hasn´t happened. Remember, after the Cold War, there was a period of time when lots of nuclear material was not adequately protected in the former Soviet Union. I hope nothing significant went to a terrorist group, but it would be irresponsible for me to exclude it.

WEYMOUTH: Has al Qaeda acquired these weapons?

ELBARADEI: We know they were interested. In Afghanistan, there were documents looking at the possibility of developing or acquiring a nuclear device. It is unlikely, but it is a scenario one cannot exclude.

WEYMOUTH: What are the prospects of the IAEA getting into North Korea?

ELBARADEI: I´d like to go back and dismantle the program - if they have nuclear weapons. Time is not in favor of the international community. North Korea has plutonium for sure - enough to make at least six to eight bombs. Like Iran, we should discuss their security concerns and their sense of isolation and bring a generous offer which would enable them to give up their nuclear ambitions. North Korea has been in non-compliance for 12 years, and that has given them time to develop nuclear capability.

WEYMOUTH: Do you think it is unfair that the Bush administration is trying to kick you out?

ELBARADEI: If reelected, I will continue to do things the way I see best. It´s very important to me that this multinational institution continue to be impartial and independent. I will not compromise on this. I don´t know who wants me out. They say they want a rotation policy. I have spent almost 30 years of my life doing this, and before I cross to the other side, I want to get the Iran issue out of the way and get to the bottom of the A.Q. Khan [former head of Pakistan´s nuclear program] network - he provided the complete kit [for a nuclear weapon] to Libya.