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Interview with Mohamed ElBaradei

Aired December 13, 2002 - 10:36   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: On this Friday the 13th, an extraordinary confluence of potential nuclear threats. Three countries, North Korea, Iran and Iraq pose potential problems. And all of those have developed today, if you like.
We will now be talking to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear arms inspection agency.

Mr. ElBaradei, thank you for joining us. We have got a lot to talk about.

And first, North Korea. They have sent you a letter saying that they are now suspending the restrictions on their nuclear activity, and indeed will restart nuclear activity in North Korea.

How bad is this, and do you still have inspectors monitoring those very serious nuclear materials there?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: Christiane, first of all thank you for having me. The answer to your question, yes. We have our inspectors still on the ground, still monitoring the freeze of North Korean nuclear activities.

We have received yesterday a letter saying that as of today, they will lift the freeze and they would like to restart their nuclear program in DPRK. I immediately answered back, saying exercise restraint, give us time to discuss the issue, give a possibility for a dialogue on the whole nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula. The situation is already tense enough, and I appeal to them to rethink their position.

We are waiting still for a response, Christiane. I hope they will not go through with their decision. Or, at the very least, if they lift the freeze to allow us to continue to do inspection to ensure that all of the activities are dedicated to peaceful purposes, and that we will not lose our ability to reconstruct the history of the program, and know in the future how much plutonium they have produced in the past.

AMANPOUR: Mr. ElBaradei, one perhaps little-noted aspect of the letter they sent you was that the North Koreans informed you that they want removed the seals and the monitoring cameras, the monitoring equipment on the nuclear facilities. And, of course, in those nuclear facilities are these spent fuel rods, which, according to the analysts, are the things that North Korea can use within months to form a nuclear bomb.

Do you have inspectors looking at those rods right now? Are they still monitoring those rods?

ELBARADEI: Yes, we have, Christiane, and we made it very clear to North Korea yesterday in my letter, that even if you want to restart your program, it is essential that we keep the seals, we keep the containment, the surveillance, the cameras, because we need to make sure that we measure the plutonium on these rods and follow them through the reprocessing plant to make sure that nothing will be diverted.

If we are not there, if we do not have our seals and cameras, we would lose the continuity of knowledge, we would not be able to reconstruct the past program and there will be a serious possibility for yet another diversion by North Korea of additional amount of plutonium. So I hope they understand the message. If they were to remove seals or cameras, they will be in serious violation of their nonproliferation obligation. We will have go to the Security Council.

AMANPOUR: Mr. ElBaradei, given the current pattern of breakdown, if you like, in terms of the relationship between the United States and North Korea, and the tit for tat actions that have been going on, do you fear that the next step might be North Korea asking you to stop inspecting those nuclear rods, for instance, which are the essence of the problem there? Those spent fuel rods?

ELBARADEI: I think I still hope for, Christiane, that we should find a political solution to this problem. I know from my contact with the U.S., with Japan, with South Korea, that they are all ready to engage North Korea in a dialogue to normalize relations with North Korea if North Korea to accept its nonproliferation obligation, if it confirms to us what is the nature of their enrichment program, which we (ph) reported a month ago, and if they accept that they will continue to come under safeguard.

If they take that step, the door will be opened, there is light at the end of the tunnel for them. It's a question now who will take the first step. And in my view, we need to be innovative, we need to ensure a way by which all the parties engage into dialogue and find an agreed solution. The pieces of the puzzle are there, it just needs somebody to get there and collect it and put them together.

AMANPOUR: Mr. ElBaradei, it was the fear back in 1994 that these spent fuel rods would not be properly monitored, that we now know could have been the trigger for a U.S. preemptive strike on the nuclear facilities in North Korea. How much notice would your agency have if there was going to be a request or any attempt to deny your ability to inspect and to monitor these rods?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think -- I think we have inspectors on the ground, Christiane, if we are not to be allowed to do our job, we will immediately be notified here in Vienna, we will immediately notify the Security Council. So we will have no notice -- notification to take whatever necessary action is required.

But as I said, I hope that we will have to go through that route, the Security Council sanctions, et cetera, and possibly other measures. I think it is much better to try to find a diplomatic solution.

And I think -- I'm encouraged that even Washington today is speaking of an agreed settlement. It is a sentiment also shared by Japan and South Korea, Russia, China, everybody would like to see that situation not deteriorate, but go back on track, and find a way by which North Korea complies with its obligation under the nonproliferation treaty. In return for receiving energy supply, including two power reactors as provided for in the agreed framework.

AMANPOUR: And just to confirm, they have not asked you to remove the inspectors yet?

ELBARADEI: No, they have not, and I think this is a good sign, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: All right. Let's turn to Iran. Satellite images have been broadcast on CNN overnight about two new facilities in Iran. Arak and Natanz. Could you please tell me whether your agency was aware of these facilities, when you were aware, and what have the Iranians told you about it?

ELBARADEI: We have been very much aware of these two facilities, Christiane, so this is not coming to us as news. We have come to know about them in August. We procured satellite imagery that identified for is the sites of these two facilities. We talked to the Iranian -- I personally talked to the Iranian head of atomic energy commission, who is a vice president of Iran in September. He acknowledged, he confirmed that they are working on a number of nuclear facilities. He extended an invitation for me to go and visit Iran, meet with President Khatami and visit these facilities with a number of our technical specialists.

I was supposed to go this week. It was rescheduled by the Iranians to February. I hope that visit -- and I very much would like to see that visit take place in February because we need to get early access to these facilities, we need to make sure that they are declared. We understand their purpose, and they are under proper safeguard and dedicated fully for peaceful use.

The Iranians have confirmed to me that all their activities are for peaceful use. They will be kosher, declared under safeguard, but we need to go there and make sure that we are in control of all the facilities there.

AMANPOUR: When you spoke to the Iranians about it, did they confirm specifically that at Arak and Natanz, there was a nuclear facility under construction?

ELBARADEI: Yes, they did -- they did say that we are building a number of nuclear fuel cycle facilities, because we have an ambitious program to use nuclear power. I think they talked about a large number of nuclear power facilities, and they said they needed facilities to converge material into fuel, to maybe enrich facility materials.

So they did -- they did not deny that they are working on a number of fuel cycle facilities. They did not get into very specific technical details. However, they said, You are welcome to visit, and you are welcome to have them under safeguard, and that's what we intend to do.

But I hope, as I said, that the visit will take soon -- sooner rather than later. I was told that this would take place in February, and I'm making plans to go with a technical team to Tehran and inspect these facilities in a couple of months.

AMANPOUR: And they told you all of this in September, is that correct?

ELBARADEI: That's correct, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Now, I want to ask you this. Are you concerned that Iran could move from what they claim to be a nuclear energy and nuclear power facility to a nuclear weapons facility in the same way that Iraq did, without the IAEA even knowing?

ELBARADEI: Well, I hope not for a number of reasons, that now the safeguard system is much more equipped to deal with situations of possible undeclared activities.

That will also help very much, if Iran were to join what we call the additional protocol, which gives us additional authority in terms of access to information and access to location. That will make our life much easier, that will enable us to do much better credible safeguard.

I was assured personally by President Khatami that all the program is for peaceful purpose. However, as I've always said, we need to verify every country's nuclear activities before we come to any conclusion.

As I said, when we go to Iran, we are going to have a thorough discussion with them. I would impress on them the need to conclude additional protocol, which would give us the needed authority. Particularly if they have complex nuclear facilities. And I hope we will be able to provide assurances that Iran program continues to be for peaceful purposes.

AMANPOUR: Mr. ElBaradei, it's a huge -- according to the satellite pictures, a huge facility, particularly at Natanz, and the Iranians apparently have said that they want to build a 6,000 megawatt nuclear energy program. This is enormous.

Why does a country that is an oil producer need that kind of size nuclear energy program?

ELBARADEI: Well, they told me, Christiane, that they need to diversify their sources of energy. They said that the oil they have is not -- is not going to last more than 20 years. They pointed to the U.S. and Russia, that have a lot of oil and coal, and yet they have large nuclear power programs.

So that in itself does not mean very much, nor am I an economist to assess the economic -- the program from and economic point of view. My job is to make sure, if they have 6,000 megawatt power reactor, to make sure that it is under proper safeguard, and that we have a thorough inspection to make sure there is no diversion, neither in Iran or anywhere else.

I think Iraq was a painful lesson we learned all together, both the agency and the international community, that if we need to do proper inspection, we need the authority and we need to be vigilant. And that's what we intend to do everywhere in the world.

AMANPOUR: Mr. ElBaradei, up until today, the focus has been very much on Iraq. You've spoken about the declaration, you're about to give the version to the Security Council on Tuesday.

Can you tell me, that given what you and the world knows right now about the capabilities, in terms of nuclear capabilities of North Korea, Iraq, Iran, how would you rate those countries in terms of which one is closest to a nuclear weapons capability?

ELBARADEI: It's difficult to speculate, Christiane. However, we know at least that North Korea has a processing plant. That -- a plant that -- could convert -- reprocess material into plutonium. So they already have the technical capability if they want to have the plutonium.

We do not know that Iran have any enrichment or reprocessing plant in operation. So they don't have that capability yet. We know that Iraq, at least when we left in 1998, has no capability whatsoever to produce either a weapon or weapon-usable material. But the situation could have changed in Iraq. It's difficult to speculate.

I think, as I said, we need to monitor these different situations. They are different, they are complex, and we need to do a proper job in all cases to ensure that there is no proliferation of nuclear weapons.

AMANPOUR: OK. So, from what I read you saying, is from what you know now, it is North Korea, Iran, then Iraq.

What do you need now in terms of fulfilling your mandate on the inspections in Iraq? Their 300-page new declaration that you've been talking about concludes that they have no nuclear weapons program, they haven't been working on anything prohibited in the last four years. How are you going to be able to verify this properly?

ELBARADEI: All right, Christiane, maybe one word first. Yes. When you say North Korea, Iran and Iraq, that's is in terms of technical capability, not in terms of intention.

AMANPOUR: Oh no. Exactly. We are specifying capability. Yes.

ELBARADEI: That is a difference -- sure. Yes. Right. Exactly. But on Iraq, yes, we have gotten, you know, the declaration, it's 2,400 pages, new 300 pages in Arabic.

We're going through it. So far I think we have not seen anything much that we didn't know. They have said that we do not have any nuclear related -- nuclear weapon-related activities. Which means that we have to do a lot of work, we have to do a lot of inspection on the ground.

We have to do environmental sampling to see whether there is any radioactive activities that have taken place in the last four years. We have to rely heavily on information that may be provided by our member states. Any country that have information that would help us in doing our job properly in Iraq is very much welcome to provide this information.

We are going to do interviewing of scientists. We are going to do satellite monitoring. We are going to do a full compliment of inspection before we come to any conclusion.

And that's why I said, please give us time, inspection takes time but it's the best predictable way to ensure that a country does not have weapons of mass destruction. And if we are successful in doing it, this would be a good lesson, not only in Iraq, but everywhere else, that inspection does and can work. And in the process is a peaceful -- is a peaceful means of doing it, and can spare innocent life that can be lost, if we resort to other means, including, of course, use of force.

AMANPOUR: Mr. ElBaradei, we're nearly out of time. I want to ask one more very brief question. What about the interviews, particularly interviewing scientists outside of Iraq?

ELBARADEI: We have that new authority, Christiane. However, we need to work a lot of practical arrangement before we make use of it. We need to make sure that we identify the scientists who have the information that we need. We need to make sure that they are ready to leave the country with their families. We need to make sure that they have a right of asylum, and they will not be forced to go back. So we need to work on all of these practical arrangements. But once we work the practical arrangement, we have no hesitation to use that authority if we think it would advance our work in Iraq.

AMANPOUR: Mr. ElBaradei, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, talking to us about problems that are arising in North Korea and Iran and Iraq, problems that need to be verified and need to be monitored and constantly inspected.


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