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Q&A: The U.N. and nuclear proliferation

Mohammed ElBaradei
Mohamed ElBaradei
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The following is a transcript of an interview with Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), conducted by CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

Amanpour: For the last many decades the NPT, the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, has been in effect, and it essentially gives the counties who signed up the rights to explore nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Do you agree that there is problem now that any country including those with suspicious motives are allowed to use this?

ElBaradei: There is a problem, Christiane, the NPT has served us well for the last three decades to regulate the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and to make sure it is not being used for military purposes, things have changed since 1970, we have realized the technology is spreading, a country that could have access to highly enriched uranium or plutonium for example is not far away from a nuclear weapon so we need to look, revaluate the Non Proliferation Treaty, not amend it, but build on it, and that's what I've been saying we need a new framework for using nuclear technology for the 21st century.

Amanpour: What is your solution?

ElBaradei: My solution that we need better country of the sensitive part of the fuel cycle that highly enriched uranium, plutonium, that no one country alone should sit on a factory that produces highly enriched uranium or plutonium. In fact the whole debate has been triggered by Iraq, where the international community have indicated a great deal of concern, that such a sensitive technology in the region could add to a an already destabilized region, but it is not just Iran specific, I think we need to look at the big picture, we need to make sure that every country in the future has an assurance of supply, they have access to nuclear technology for electricity purposes, for other application, but try to minimize the risk associated with that, by having an international consortium for example, producing the fuel and then take back the fuel again under international supervision.

Amanpour: So in other words, don't let them enrich their own uranium?

ElBaradei: Correct, no one county can enrich its own uranium, but international group, international consortium, regional centers when you have a redundancy of oversight, so we have a better system of controlling that sensitive part. Now we have seen, after A.Q. Khan, illicit trafficking that if you have the fissile material you are really months away from a nuclear weapon and that margin of security is too close for comfort.

Amanpour: What is the Bush administration solution; do they have an alternative to the NPT?

ElBaradei: No I think they continue to support as everyone the NPT, I think Bush supports that we have a cut-off as they say, so those who have that enrichment capability should keep it, should provide that facility to other countries but no new countries should acquire that technology. Obviously a lot of other countries are not happy with that proposal, say it is discriminatory because why shouldn't also we have it even if we are latecomer and this I think Bush, again, I share the same objective, we need a better system of control. My proposal however it is not that the early bird eat the worm but we should a system by which everyone perceives it to be inclusive and fair, fairness is usually the key to a durable solution and my proposal is let us have a time out let us stop any new country developing, let's stop developing nuclear any nuclear facility being built for now, let us see how we better control the facility, let us have a system by which every country is assured of supply so no country can say I want to have my own independent enrichment or reprocessing.

I think this is a must in the near term and medium term, particularly we are going to expect a major expansion in the use of nuclear technology for electricity and generation if you look at India and China... even Europe; Finland starts now developing a nuclear reactor so we are going to see a major expansion with the use of nuclear technology and with that we need to make sure that as we go expanding that as we expand that use of technology for environmental impact etc, we need to make sure that we do not increase the risk associate with it.

Amanpour: You said this is all triggered by the Iran problem, the Russians have just said that they'll get back their spent-fuel for their Busher reactor, is that what you mean?

ElBaradei: That is basically what I mean, this is a microcosm of what we should have in future, that we have a consortium of countries, companies under appropriate control providing the fuel and then taking back the spent fuel so you get electricity without the risk associated with the technology.

Amanpour: Is Iran agreeing?

ElBaradei: I think Iran is one player in this whole debate, Iran obviously would like to have their own independent enrichment, I think they insist we should not be treated differently from any other country and that is why I am saying Iran's solution... Iran is of course a special case because there is a lot of concern about Iran because of the undeclared nature of the program for the last two decades, so there is a lot of apprehension about it and I think Iran understood that apprehension by agreeing to suspend its enrichment operation but Iran is symptomatic of a larger problem that we need to address.

Amanpour: Is Iran agreeing to send back their spent fuel to Russia?

ElBaradei: Yes Iran agreed to send back the spent fuel to Russia, so this is a good beginning, in fact Iran is saying we want electricity but we are ready to use the fuel provided by Russia and then send it back to Russia.

Amanpour: Iran said it should have the right to make its own enriched uranium, but is it still hell-bent on enriching itself?

ElBaradei: I think that is what they say and what they are saying is this is a right we have like any other country and we should not be treated any differently and this is a right we want to use for own independent fuel cycle, that we would like to be an exporter. But however with that they are still maintaining a full suspension of that enrichment capability. They are engaged into dialogue with the Europeans right now. You see what is happening Christiane is two things, we are the IAEA, we are trying to clarify the past, a lot of activity that has been concealed for two decades and we are still not there yet and I have been saying Iran is playing by the book we have improved cooperation but I still, because of that undeclared nature of the program, I need much more proactive transparency to build confidence, so that is a legal obligation Iran has to comply with, Iran has to comply with its legal obligation under the NPT to come clean if you like, in parallel with that the Europeans are saying, well the nuclear issue in Iran is part of a larger problem, part of strained relationship between Iran and the rest of the world, particularly Europe and the United States... is marred by sanctions, boycott, etc. It is a feeling of insecurity in Iran, so let us look at the nuclear issue in Iran as part of larger problem, and that's what is happening in the negotiation between Europe and Iran, they are putting the nuclear issue on the table but also security, technology, trade, and I think that is the way to go.

You need to look at the nuclear issue as part of the broader relationship between a particular country and the rest of the world. No different from the North Korean... and I am very happy now to see the U.S. is joining that effort, I have been saying for a while that this, in my view, will never succeed unless the U.S. does the heavy lifting, as Senator Lugar indicated recently, particularly in the area of security particularly in the area of technology. And I am now much hopeful than before that if we endure we will be able to have a solution that assure Iran that it will have the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes but also assure the international community that the Iranian program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Amanpour: And yet in the last few days and weeks we are seeing reports they are buying centrifuges, building tunnels, are they doing that? Are they consciously trying to hide what they are doing from you still?

ElBaradei: I am not sure they are trying to hide; they are trying to protect their activities. There have been talks that they might be subject to a military strike so hey need to build tunnels to protect their equipment. They are fulfilling their legal obligation as I said, there is a minor infraction here and there but much less than in the past when there was a major concealment of the program but again this is not for me and the international community this is not enough. Iran needs to created a confident deficit, they need to rebuild confidence, and for that they need to go out of their way to be transparent it is in their own interest and the interest of the international community.

Amanpour: If they don't give up their centrifuge technology, they can build a bomb?

ElBaradei: Well, not necessarily, they will have the capability to have the nuclear material they can use to build a bomb. I mean having enriched uranium does not mean automatically that you can, that you are going to have a bomb. Part of the difficulty with the nuclear technology is they are dual use, that you can use it for peaceful purpose or military purpose. It's a question of intention and that is why when we discuss Iran there is a lot you hear about Iran has intention. And that's why when we discuss Iran there are a lot of .... You hear Iran has the intentions, has the ambitions... we are suspicious... it is very difficult to read intentions and that is why I am saying: we do the facts, we look at the facts on the ground, we report on capabilities, and of course, as I said because of the Middle East situation, unstable situation in the Middle East, because of the Iran concealment over many years, the suspicion is great and that is why Iran needs to do everything they can to build confidence I think without clarifying the past, Christiane, without making sure that the past is clear we will not be successful in regulating the future. So the more Iran does to clarify the past, the more they will be successful, in my view, in their dialogue with the Europeans and the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Amanpour: You have always said the U.S. needs to be on board, are you satisfied that the U.S. is now on board and doing enough?

ElBaradei: I think it is a very good step in the right direction I would like hopefully to see the U.S. as things move forward to be fully engaged, but clearly this is a sea-change for me because I was not at all optimistic that things could work without the U.S. engagement, and to have them now engaged, to see President Bush and Secretary Rice saying that they are actively supporting the European initiative, I think it is very a welcome step.

Amanpour: What does it mean that they are engaged, why is it so important if the Europeans are doing an ok job?

ElBaradei: Well, because if you look at any of the areas where Iran has grievances or would like to see rewards for its suspension or possibly at the end agreeing to a comprehensive framework, you need to the U.S. every step of the way for example if Iran were to join the WTO you need a U.S. consent, if Iran wants to modernize its Boeing fleet or buy an Airbus you need a U.S. consent because of the sanction there, and particularly if you want to look into regional security and that is an issue very much on the agenda you need the U.S. involvement to provide security assurance.

Amanpour: But hasn't the U.S. just raised the possibility of WTO and other things and the Iranians have laughed at it? They said they must be hallucinating, what's going on here?

ElBaradei: Well, this part of the negotiation, if the U.S. is saying we are ready to lift the band on joining the WTO, we are ready to provide your spare parts, basically the Iranians are saying this is not enough. Well, we will hear a lot of that from both sides saying you are offering too much you are offering less than what we expect but this, we should endure, as I said, this is part of the negotiations, the Iranians are good in negotiations, the Europeans are good in negotiations, but we need to make sure the process continues and it is not derailed, that to me is the most important, as long as the parties are talking we are on the right track.

Amanpour: There has been a presidential commission has been looking at intelligence as far as capabilities of certain countries such as Iran, early leaks have basically called the nature of American intelligence on Iranian nuclear situation and the North Korean situation, quote 'scandalous' ... what do you think?

ElBaradei: I am not privy to exactly what they have other than what they provided us. What I have been saying for a while is that Iran has been working on an undeclared program for many years, Iran has developed the capability of enriching uranium that obviously could be used for peaceful purpose and not peaceful purpose, this like any other country but we have not seen a proof that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon, because we have not seen nuclear materials diverted into a weapon. But at the same time we have been saying for a while the jury is still out we can not certify this is a program fully dedicated for peaceful purpose. That is no different from what I hear now coming from Washington, Washington saying that because of the undeclared nature of the program, we are suspicious about the Iranian ambition, that is no different really from where we are, but we are still in the middle or examining the Iranian program but I am not ready to jump the gun and say this is a weapon program.

Amanpour: In general do you and your organization provide more intelligence on Iran's situation or does the U.S. provide more information to you, how does it work?

ElBaradei: We generate a lot of information by being on the ground if you see what we have achieved in the last year and a half, I am proud of our record...

Amanpour: And you are the only ones on the ground?

ElBaradei: We are the only ones on the ground because we have the legal authority to be there and right now our understanding of the nature and extent of the Iranian nuclear program is sea-change from what we knew two years ago when the Iranian program was almost a black box, so being on the ground is absolutely important.

Amanpour: The United States was lobbying against you being reappointed you being head of the IAEA, some of the people in the administration were put off that you didn't agree with their analysis of the Iraq situation, turns out yours was closer to accurate, are they still lobbying against you, or do you think you will be reappointed?

ElBaradei: I don't really know, other than I know I have been asked by a majority of countries to continue to serve, simply because we are in the middle of a crisis situation, we talked about Iran we talked about proliferation of nuclear technology. So, there is as I was told by the chairman of our board of governors, which is in charge of that process, that I have strong and broad support.

Amanpour: Is there anybody else who has put a candidacy forth?

ElBaradei: I am the only candidate, but again I should say this is a public service, I would like to continue because I have a job to do but I need to make sure everybody provide me the necessary support if I do that I would be happy to serve, if not I would be happy to move on.

Amanpour: Is the UK supporting you?

ElBaradei: I haven't heard anybody say they are not supporting me.

Amanpour: Senator Nunn, has said at least in the '94 agreement between the U.S. and North Korea at least the U.S. knew where then unclear material was, it was in the storage place in the reactor in the Pyongyang area, now does anybody know where it is?

ElBaradei: We have no clue and that is why when people sometimes grumble about our slow pace in Iran, I would like them to compare that situation with North Korea and Iran we are active we are generating information and we know what going on more or less... in Korea it is an absolutely black hole because we are not there. So in any country an absence of verification... you have to rely on conjecture and that is what we are doing in North Korea. We know through satellite that they have processed the spent fuel and they have now the plutonium ready to be developed into a bomb. We know they have said they have already nuclear weapon I would like to go back to North Korea as early as possible I would hope they would invite me to the agency to resume a dialogue with them I think this would be very good step in the right direction I understand that they have security concerns but I also understand the international committee is deeply concerned about their program so we need -- not dissimilar from Iran -- again everybody concerned to sit together to develop a package that assure the country needs and the international community needs.

Amanpour: Could they be making bombs right now?

ElBaradei: It is not at all excluded because they have that plutonium they can readily use into nuclear weapon, they have the industrial infrastructure, but more importantly they said they are doing it. So based on our technical assessment we see no technical barrier that they could be able or already have nuclear weapon.

Amanpour: In terms of a nuclear weapons menace, which is more threatening now, Iran or North Korea?

ElBaradei: We know North Korea has the plutonium that can go already into a bomb, we have not seen any such material in Iran that is why I am saying unless you have the nuclear material you can not have the weapon, you might have the intention you might have the ambition but unless you have the nuclear material for the bomb, you cannot have the bomb in short span of time. In North Korea they have the material in Iran we have not seen such material so there is a vast difference when we talk about North Korea we talk about an imminent threat or an imminent danger, when we talk about Iran we talk about suspicion of a nuclear program ambition, there is a big difference there.

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