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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview With Mohamed El Baradei

Aired December 23, 2002 - 07:07   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get to the latest news out of North Korea, the news from Pyongyang over the weekend. That government saying it's removing more monitoring equipment, gear installed by the international community to try and make sure that North Koreans will not use plutonium to make nuclear weapons.
I talked about the threat with Mohamed el-Baradei a few short minutes ago. He's the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He was in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOHAMED EL BARADEI, IAEA DIRECTOR: Well, it's pretty disturbing. It's a rapidly deteriorating situation, not only that they have taken the cameras and surveillance, our verification monitoring equipment from the power reactor where they supposedly want to produce electricity, but yesterday and today continue to take all of the equipment from the spent fuel and the repossessing plant, which would enable them if they restart the program to make plutonium in a pretty few months. And that's a pretty disturbing intent (ph).

And it does not really make any rational sense in terms of their need, so to speak, to produce electricity, because if they start the power reactor, that we understand, but repossessing spent fuel and producing plutonium have no -- absolutely no rational in terms of peaceful activities in North Korea.

It's a pretty dangerous situation, and I hope we should be able to -- the international community should be able to arrest the deterioration pretty rapidly.

HEMMER (on camera): Yes, do you believe then the decision in North Korea is to make more nuclear weapons, sir?

EL BARADEI: I really cannot read their intention, Bill. However, if we are not back with our equipment to monitor the program, we will not in the next few weeks provide any assurance that they are not diverting nuclear material for weapons purposes. That is the early warning we are going to provide to the international community. It's then up to the -- you know, to the Security Council, up to the members of the agency to take whatever measures to bring back North Korea into compliance with their non-proliferation obligation.

But it is a serious situation. I am in contact with all their neighbors, obviously with the U.S., with a member of the Security Council, and we are looking into ways and means to bring them back into where they were a couple of months ago, respecting their obligation under their non-proliferation treaty, and hopefully getting -- if they do that, there is an extended hand for them to normalize relations with them, to provide them economic assistance.

But I think the message now that nobody would like to negotiate under a new nuclear brinkmanship, and that's what's happening right now.

HEMMER: Yes, is it your understanding -- and to give our viewers and our audience an idea of this, too -- if there is no surveillance equipment and there is no cameras connected on to this nuclear site, is there any monitoring your agency can do right now within the borders of North Korea?

EL BARADEI: Well, our inspectors -- we have our inspectors still on site there. But of course, their ability to monitor 24 hours without cameras, without seals, is rather limited. If the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were to respond -- I have to say, they have not yet started them and it might take them a few weeks to restart. But if they restart them, particularly the repossessing plant which would start producing plutonium, then we in a pretty dangerous situation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HEMMER: Once again, he emphasized throughout that interview right now, the international community right now flying blind essentially with the closed borders of North Korea, with no surveillance equipment in there. A lot of concern right now over what's happening inside the Pyongyang government.

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