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Q&A: Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei



Do you agree with the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog and its chief?
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Mohamed ElBaradei
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Nobel Prize
Nuclear Warfare

OSLO, Norway (CNN) -- The U.N. nuclear watchdog and its head, Mohamed ElBaradei, won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their efforts to limit the spread of atomic weapons.

CNN's Ralitsa Vassileva spoke with ElBaradei shortly after the announcement.

Q: Mr. ElBaradei, a big honor for you. Congratulations. How does it feel?

A: Thank you very much, Ralitsa. Well, I'm overwhelmed, I'm humbled, I'm delighted. I'm full of emotions right now, Ralitsa. But I feel a lot of responsibilities on my shoulder because the prize meaning stay the course and do more of the same. And we have a lot of difficult issues ahead of us. So it strengthens my resolve but I'm very conscious of the heavy responsibility my team and I have to shoulder.

Q: What do you think -- in what way do you think that this prize and this spotlight on the IAEA will help you?

A: I think it would help me a lot, Ralitsa. It would help me in enhancing the perception of credibility, impartiality of the agency. It would help me in terms of public visibility, when I have to deal with government who are not complying with their obligations. I think the status that prize has given us, my team and I, will help me a lot to go through a very difficult road and to try to resolve some of the most intricate security issues, hopefully through peaceful means, through verification, through establishing that some of the nuclear programs where we have doubt about are exclusively for peaceful purpose.

So it is -- as exactly the chairman of the committee told me over the telephone today, it gives me, and it gives the agency, a shot in the arm.

Q: However, one of your biggest challenges, one of those nations you're dealing with, and that is Iran. Its foreign ministry spokesman has, "I have nothing to say about this award." Do you think that this award, in a way, could make things more difficult in dealing with one of your biggest challenges, Iran's nuclear program?

A: I hope not, Ralitsa. We have been having good but slow progress in understanding the Iranian nuclear program. We are not yet in a position to say that it is exclusively for peaceful purpose. I'd like to close that file as early as I can, but that very much depends on Iran's transparency and cooperation.

I hope they will understand the value of that prize today to meaning the international community has full confidence in the IAEA. The international community is looking forward to the IAEA to resolve the Iranian file, the North Korean file. The international community is determined that we need to move robustly to eliminate proliferation threats, to eliminate possible nuclear terrorism, and to move on nuclear disarmament.

I think the committee made it clear that with the stagnation in the commitment to move toward nuclear disarmament, the role of the agency is more important than ever. So we have to move on a number of difficult agendas, but we are committed, we are encouraged, and we have a lot of optimism that we will make progress in the future, Ralitsa.

Q: One more issue that critics have brought up, and it's a flaw in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, that countries -- there are fears that countries like Iran might cooperate to a certain extent, just like North Korea did with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty -- and when they are ready to start building weapons -- like North Korea, as it has claimed it has built a weapon -- they just pull out of that treaty and push out your inspectors. How are you going to deal with that?

A: Well, this is a danger, Ralitsa, and that's why I have been saying for a year now that we should not have dissemination of the sensitive fuel cycle activities, meaning that no country should have enrichment capability or reprocessing capability.

In other words, should not have the high enriched uranium or the plutonium as part of their civilian fuel cycle. If we can do that, then the margin of security, even if they decide to walk away from the treaty, they will not have the fissile materials they need to develop a weapon.

So we have at least a year, or two, or three, to cope with that situation. I think that's the key, to reform the non-proliferation regime. We have learned a lot since 1970, when the NPT has been promulgated. We need to have some restriction on the use of the technology. We need to have a better, robust verification authority.

And we need to have a Security Council that is able to step up to the plate. When we reported North Korea, for example, in 1992, in 2002, Security Council did not do very much. So we can do our part of the job, is to bring the facts up, but the Security Council have to back us up.

Q: And speaking of backing you up, there is a possibility now, with the latest resolution on Iran, that it could be referred to the Security Council. However, there are differences. This resolution was passed -- a very unusual thing, it was not passed by consensus. Countries like Russia and China simply abstained, showing that they do not 100 percent support this. They have their own interests.

How do you deal with this pressure of interest of specific countries not wanting to go along, these divisions that exist between those who want a hard line and those who want a softer line and have an interest to maintain that?

A: I think everybody agrees, and this is the strategic consensus, that Iran or North Korea or no other country in the future, Ralitsa, should have nuclear weapons. On that issue, everybody agrees.

What you see sometimes is difference in tactics, how to go about achieving that objective, and that's why you saw differences of views between China and Russia, who believe there is still room for moving within the IAEA on the Iranian file rather than referring it to the Security Council, while the U.S. and many others believe that the time has come to refer to the Security Council. So that's the difference in tactics.

People should not confuse it that some countries are soft on Iran or Korea or whatever. I think we have an international community quite united that we cannot -- one more country developing nuclear weapons is one more country too many.

I think the good news, Ralitsa, that even after the resolution has been adopted with some dissension, there has been a lot of discussion, I can tell you, between Russia, between China, between the U.S. And I'm optimistic that in the next few weeks, we might see again the Iranian and the European coming back to the negotiating table.

I was in Moscow in the last couple of days. I had a long discussion with Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia. I know he had had lots of discussion with Jack Straw, whom I talked to today. Also with Secretary Rice, whom I also called today. So things are moving. There's a lot of work behind the scene, and I would hope that in the next few weeks we will see a clarity as to in which direction we should go.

I should finish by saying, it all depends on Iran, that the ball is very much in the Iranian court. And the more Iran would cooperate with the international community, with the IAEA, with the European Union in their dialogue, the more we would be able to move, resolving the issue within the IAEA, through peaceful means, and be able finally to say that Iran program -- or provide the assurance that Iran program is exclusively for peaceful purpose.

Q: So far, that has unfortunately not been achieved. And also, with respect to North Korea, also. What are your worries that, as time passes, certain nations are building possibly covert programs that could possibly lead to nuclear weapons programs?

There's also been a case in which the AQ Khan network, which was developed under the noses of the IAEA and other world powers, and nobody was aware of that until Libya decided that it would give up its nuclear weapons.

A: Ralitsa, it's a bit complicated, but let me explain in simple terms. I think some of these -- Korea, for example. Korea, the agency, in 1992 raised the alarm, said that North Korea has been in non-compliance of its non-proliferation obligation. I think the Korean issue rests squarely -- the responsibility of where we are today with regard to the Korean issue -- rests squarely with the Security Council, as I mentioned before.

We cannot enforce compliance, we can only raise the alarm. We did raise the alarm 13 years ago in North Korea. Nothing was done because of a variety of geopolitical reasons. On Iran, I think, true, we have not yet reached the end of the road, but we have made tremendous, I think, progress in understanding the nature, the extent, of the Iranian program.

There are a few remaining issues important, though. But one should not forget, in the last two years, we have made lots of progress. We learned a lot from the Iranian and the Korean situation. We learned that we need more intrusive inspection. We learned that we should not have the right unabated for every country to have enrichment, highly-enriched uranium or plutonium. We learned that we need to have a better export control.

When you talked about AQ Khan network, this was the failure of an export control regime, you know, and not really the failure of the agency. We cannot see some software and hardware in warehouses, and that was the Libyan situation, for example. When a country starts to develop an industrial structure, then obviously we can detect that.

So there's a lot of lesson that we have learned over the last 20 and 30 years, and I think what the Nobel committee is saying right is not only that, "We salute your achievement, but we are also urge you to continue to strengthen the regime," because the dangers we are facing in the next few years are absolutely unprecedented and could threaten our very survival, Ralitsa.

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