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Interview With Mohamed ElBaradei

Aired February 9, 2003 - 17:03   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: It is just after 1 a.m. Monday here in Kuwait and once again, we are waiting. Will Iraq follow through on its promise of greater cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors, or were developments this weekend too little too late?
Let's go to Baghdad and CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Marty, the indications from the two U.N. weapons chiefs, as they leave, they say they are cautiously optimistic. They discussed a number of wide- ranging issues, one of those issues, the use of U2 surveillance aircraft. On that issue, they say Iraqi authorities will get back to them before their speech to the U.N. Security Council next Friday. That's only five days away.

Also, they say Iraqi authorities handed them a number of documents, documents about VX, about anthrax, about missiles. Now, they say none of these documents in themselves were break-through documents, but they say they believe that this is perhaps the beginning of an indication that Iraq is willing to cooperate more on disarmament issues.

For their part, Iraqi officials say that they've done a number of things, that they will have created a new commission to look into the whereabouts of other documents in Iraq, that they've expanded another commission that's looking for missing weapons of mass destruction around the country, that they have also set out -- set out to get to the bottom of those weapons of mass destruction around the country.

I sat down a little bit after Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei gave their news conference, talked with the International Atomic Energy Agency's chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, about whether they've achieved enough.


MOHAMED ELBARADEI, IAEA CHIEF: These are the objectives we came for, full inspection, full Iraqi cooperation, movement on the remaining disarmament issues and I think we made good progress on all these issues.


ROBERTSON: Now, also, the Iraqi officials say that they think that they have done enough to avoid the possibility of war. What they said -- what they say is that if they are judged fairly, they say, then that will be enough to head off the possibility of war.

They also say that they have come up with a new system of testing Iraq's destroyed Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. They say they'll need U.N. support and help on that but they offer this as part of their cooperation.

Broadly speaking, the two U.N. inspectors believing that if Iraq makes good on its commitments at this time, that they should be able to give the U.N. Security Council enough information for that to allow them to continue with their work.

Mohammed ElBaradei, however, indicating that perhaps it very much is going to depend on what Iraq does in the next few days and weeks.

SAVIDGE: Nic, if you can hear me, I have a question for you, wondering what happened with the issue of the U2 planes that the U.N. wanted to fly over Iraq. Where does that stand right now?

ROBERTSON: There seems to be some more information on that issue. The U2 surveillance aircraft fly at the highest level. There is now discussion about the use of French Mirage jets to fly at a slightly lower level for surveillance and also the use of Russian aircraft Antonov at an even lower level and German drones at an even lower level.

Now what Iraqi officials say they're doing right now is to put these issues to their defense chiefs, to their air defense corps, to see if it's safe for these aircraft to fly. The issue that they say is they're not blocking the use of U2 surveillance aircraft, but because allied aircraft fly in the northern and southern no-fly zones, they don't think that they can guarantee the safety of these aircraft when they're flying over Iraq.

However, they say they promise to get back to Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei before they go to the U.N. Security Council next week.

I sat down with Mohamed ElBaradei just after he gave his news conference, and I asked him was Iraq doing enough now to head off the possibility of war.


ROBERTSON: Mr. ElBaradei, Hans Blix, in his report to the U.N. Security Council, said that Iraq had failed to fully accept the need to disarm. Have you seen a change in that while you've been there?

ELBARADEI: I think we have seen a beginning of a change today. What we heard today is commitment that they need to -- that they will do everything they are bound to do on the Security Council resolution. They are fully committed, you know, for the disarmament process that they would go out of their way to accommodate us in every way possible.

So we've got a commitment to do private interviews both inside and outside Iraq. The government to encourage the scientists to do the interviews, which is a very valuable tool for us. We hope before Friday we've got a commitment that we'll be able to use all the surveillance aircraft that the French Mirage, Russian Antonov and the U2. But the Iraqis still have some problem because it is associated with the no-fly zone.

But we made it clear to them that what we are interested is to report 100 percent Iraqi cooperation to the Security Council. It is anything less will not get them off the hook at this stage. Time is critical.

ROBERTSON: Are you confident the commitments you've been given are sufficient to avoid war?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think if, Nic, if we got a commitment for interviews everywhere, private interviews, according to our preferred modalities and locations, if we can get a green light we can use surveillance aircraft, if we already see some progress on the outstanding issues, I think that will clearly strengthen the hand of those who say an inspection is and can work, and let us give it the appropriate time and give it a chance.

ROBERTSON: President Bush said he expects Iraq to give empty concessions. How can you be sure that's not what you've been given this time?

ELBARADEI: We're not sure. We never trust any inspected country, let alone Iraq, where we had, you know, a pattern of non- cooperation. And that's why I said we are cautiously optimistic.

ROBERTSON: Do you feel you've been able to sufficiently convince Iraqi officials that time is running out?

ELBARADEI: I think, Nic, we made it as clear as possible in every meeting we have, including our meeting with the vice president today that obviously, time is running out.

ROBERTSON: Do you feel that the threat of force helps you or hinders you?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think, as Kofi Annan said, that peace sometimes has to be supported which the threat of use of force, you know, by the Security Council. And I think you know, you have to extend your hand to peace, but also in some cases you have to support that by the stick.

ROBERTSON: Aren't you just being treated the same way that UNSCOM was, that it's again a game of hide and seek?

ELBARADEI: Well, they say that we didn't have much evidence left and therefore, they said during our declaration, we could not really support it by much evidence.

However, today, they said they established two committees to look for evidence, to look for documents. They are coming with these experiments through analysis, going to bore holes, going to sites. So they are -- you get the feeling that they're trying their very best now to come with evidence.

ROBERTSON: Is there anything that you've seen while you've been here that convinces you categorically that they really have a change of heart?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think the interviews is a good beginning. The interviews has been the most sensitive, you know, issue for Iraq.

ROBERTSON: Mohammed ElBaradei, thank you very much.


Well, cautiously optimistic, Marty, that's the way they put it. They'll be leaving here in about six hours time, headed back through Cyprus, Mohamed ElBaradei going to Vienna. He has some other important IAEA engagements before both he and Hans Blix meet again in New York on the 13th of February for that all-important report on Friday -- Marty.

SAVIDGE: All right. We'll have to see how it plays out. Nic Robertson, live from Baghdad, thanks very much.


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