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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Aired September 26, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET

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

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christiane Amanpour, in London. Welcome to CNN'S INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we bring together leading journalists to examine media coverage around the world.
Sometimes we speak to major newsmakers, and today Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy, joins us.

The IAEA has set an October 31st deadline for Iran to prove what it's repeatedly been saying, that its nuclear program is geared towards peaceful uses only. But the country is coming under increasing pressure to account for its nuclear ambitions. The IAEA found further minute traces of weapons-grade uranium in Iran this week.

The discovery comes amidst mixed signals from Tehran as to whether or not it intends to meet that October 31st deadline. By this date the nuclear watchdog wants Iran to prove it is not secretly developing nuclear weapons and also to suspend all uranium enrichment activities.

So joining me now from Vienna is Dr. ElBaradei.

Mr. ElBaradei, you and your people, or rather your people, were due to go to Iran this weekend for preliminary meetings. Iran has called it off. Why?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, IAEA: Well, Christiane, Iran has asked for three more days to prepare for the visit. They have important meetings taking place in Iran right now and I think they needed to finish the review of their level of cooperation with the agency before we come by sometime around the end of the week, and I hope the review will conclude that it is in Iran's interest to become fully transparent and proactive in working with us to bring that issue to closure as soon as possible.

AMANPOUR: The issue of weapons grade uranium, highly enriched uranium. Apparently, your people have found more traces of that in a location near Tehran. That's the second this year. What does that say to you?

ELBARADEI: Well, there's a lot of worrying signs, Christiane. A lot of indications that Iran has been active in developing it's nuclear program, and we need to work with the Iranian authorities to make sure that all the nuclear activities are declared to the agency and under agency safeguard.

It's a very complex process. There's a lot of technical work that needs to be done, but we need absolute transparency on the part of Iran. We need full cooperation.

As we learned recently, Iran has started to assemble that program almost 18 years ago, so we have to reconstruct the history of that program over two decades, and that's a very complex process.

We started in February. We are now in September, and the board, as you just rightly mentions, our member states said Iran, by the end of October, should really come forward with all the information we need. And I hope that will happen.

It's an opportunity for Iran to come clean through telling us everything they have done and I think this is -- I keep saying, it's in the interest of the international community and of Iran, because once we can come with a positive report, that would enable Iran to move forward in its relationship with the rest of the international community, particularly in trade, commerce and many other activities.

So I am appealing to Iran that they need to understand that this is not an ultimatum, this is an opportunity for us and for them and it is -- would be very good for them if they can grab that opportunity.

AMANPOUR: Well let me ask you, you say it's not an ultimatum. At the United Nations this week the Iranian foreign minister said that Iran will not give in to, quote, "unreasonable demands that are discriminatory, selective, and go beyond the reasonable requirements of the IAEA."

ELBARADEI: Well, again, for us to be able to bring the whole issue of the extent and nature of the Iran nuclear program, Christiane, we need full transparency.

As I said, this has started two decades ago. For us to reconstruct that we need to go beyond the structure of the legal requirements and we need full transparency by Iran.

If we are not getting that, we will not be able to verify the nature of the Iran program and then Iran -- discussion would certainly escalate.

So they need to understand that it is in their interest not to stick to the legal clauses but really come forward with information. They said the program is for peaceful purpose and if they have really nothing to hide, and it is then for them to open all facilities, all their books, for us to see it and bring the issue to closure.

AMANPOUR: The highly enriched uranium, traces of which your people have found, Iran says that that was on equipment that they had imported from abroad. Is that a plausible reason? This is the second time, apparently.

ELBARADEI: It's one of the scenarios we need to look at. It could be that it's out of importation of contaminated equipment. It could be the result of importation of enriched uranium. It could be the result of enrichment inside Iran. So we need to go through the different scenarios and come to the conclusion.

But that's really the most important issue for us, to make sure that no undeclared enrichment activities have (AUDIO GAP). That's our number one priority.

Also, when Mr. Karachi (ph) said that what we should do should not be discriminatory, I agree. What we are doing in Iran, Christiane, is no different from what we do everywhere else. The protocol we want them to sign has been signed by 80 countries. So it is in no way Iran-specific what we do. But we have a serious responsibility. It's a serious issue. It has to do with proliferation of nuclear weapons. And we need to act, act fast, and act with the full force that this issue requires.

AMANPOUR: Do you think, given their current public posture, that they will meet your October 31st deadline?

ELBARADEI: I hope so. I mean, I hope at least that I will not be in a position to report that I'm not getting the full cooperation and full transparency by Iran.

As I mentioned, we have been working on that for six months. I think there is a degree of impatience on the part of the international community that this issue cannot continue forever, and I hope that I should be able to report by the end of -- in November, when I report to the board, that I am getting all the cooperation I need to get from Iran.

If not, as I again just indicated, I'm afraid that the issue will escalate beyond the confines of the agency.

AMANPOUR: Well, what does that mean, exactly? What will happen? If it goes to the Security Council, what are the plausible punitive measures that could happen? I mean everybody, obviously, is looking at what happened in Iraq.

ELBARADEI: I cannot really speculate, Christiane, on what the Security Council would or would not do. As I said, I hope that the issue will not have to be brought to the Security Council. I hope that Iran will cooperate and take whatever corrective measures are needed for us to be able to present a positive report to our member states in Vienna.

AMANPOUR: It's been quite alarming recently. The two times now highly enriched uranium traces found, the Iranians, apparently in public anyway, seeming to resist your questions, the enhanced protocols. Do you believe that if they are determined to do nuclear weapons and hide that that even with enhanced inspections you could find out exactly what they're doing?

ELBARADEI: I think it's very plausible that with the authority we are seeking that we should be able to provide credible assurances to the international community whether the program is peaceful or not. Not only on Iran but everywhere else.

But I would not, Christiane, like to jump to conclusion. It is a matter which has very serious implications and they have been saying we will not dodge any issue, we will take every issue with the seriousness it deserves. But I would like people to bear with us. It's a complex process and I do not want to jump to conclusion.

So give us the space we need, give us the time we need. It's a matter of months. But at the end of that process, provided Iran fully cooperates, we should come to closure on this very important issue.

AMANPOUR: Dr. ElBaradei, there are two theories that have been publicly posited. One, that Iran must sign on and get with this protocol. Two, that even this protocol might not be enough and instead it's been suggested in some quarters that the outside world might be better advised to help Iran with its fuel cycle.

In other words, would you think that it would be safer if the West, let's say France, Britain, the United States, where allowed to have control over the critical capabilities, the critical technology, that they use in their nuclear program?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think, Christiane, I have been peddling a proposal that, not only in Iran but everywhere else, the critical components of that nuclear technology should be under multilateral control, not only under one countries control simply to enhance the nonproliferation regime.

There is on the table ideas how to work with Iran to provide Iran with nuclear electricity, but not necessarily Iran to develop the fuel cycle. However this is a matter for negotiation between Iran and the rest of the international community. This however could only take place if we clarify the past activities of Iran.

AMANPOUR: There's been quite a lot of comment, as you can imagine, in the Iranian press about this whole issue. Some people are calling to just pull out of the NPT, the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty. What indications do you have that Iran won't go the way of North Korea, that it won't boot out the IAEA inspectors, that it won't pull out of the NPT?

ELBARADEI: Well, I have no indication. I hope that will not be the road Iran will opt to take. I think it will simply escalate the matter. Walking out of the NPT means that there is a serious issue that has implications for peace and security in the Middle East. It will involve the international community in yet another major confrontation.

I don't think either Iran or the international community will benefit from this loggerhead on the nuclear issue. I think we still would like to resolve that issue through verification, through peaceful means.

We have learned through the Iraqi experience that that's not necessarily the best way to go, confrontation, but we should try every possible way resolve the issues through peaceful means, Christiane, and I'm still very much hoping that this could work.

AMANPOUR: Dr. ElBaradei, thank you so much for joining us from Vienna today.

So how is this playing in Iran itself? We'll talk to a journalist reporting from inside the country when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS on CNN.

We've just been talking to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei about Iran's stand off with the international community. Now let's hear from a journalist inside that country, Jim Muir the BBC correspondent there who's been in Iran for the past four years and he joins me now by videophone from Tehran.

Jim, do you know why the Iranians have postponed the visit of the IAEA?

JIM MUIR, BBC: Well, of course they haven't said anything, Christiane, and it's pretty clear why, and that is that they haven't got their act together yet. I don't believe they've taken the strategic decision that they need to take.

There's a lot of hammering going on behind the scenes here and as well as in the public print, of course. There's been everybody putting in their six-penny's worth, basically putting their point of view one way or the other, hard-liners, moderates, et cetera. Everybody trying to push this thing one way or the other.

But I don't believe they've take a fundamental decision yet. They need more time. They knew that once the first team arrived from Vienna from the IAEA they would be forced to take practical decisions on the ground that would imply a fundamental policy decision that they haven't yet taken.

So the debate goes on here and I think it will be some days at last before we know the outcome of that -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Jim, I was going to ask you -- you eluded to it somewhat. Is this a case of the hard-line on one side, the reformists or the moderates on another? Or in the case of the nuclear issue, is it a united front?

MUIR: Well, it's a bit of both. On some issues they see eye to eye. On others, there's a fundamental divide. And it would, I say, roughly go along the fault line between reformers and hard-liners.

There are consensus issues on this whole arena. One is that they shouldn't capitulate to American pressures, and it's a major problem for the reformists, who generally favor compliance. But America is so obviously pressing and pushing publicly on this, it makes them look like they're advocating capitulation to the great Satan, as people here would see it.

The other consensus issue is that basically they feel that they do have a natural right to produce nuclear power, and so when the IAEA as it is says that you must stop all enrichment activity, or we would like you to stop all enrichment activity, that looks as though they're trying to deny Iran the technology that it would need in any case for peaceful production of nuclear power. So that's another consensus issue.

But beyond that, on the basic question of whether they should go along with the IAEA, allow transparency and full inspections and so on, there is, I think, a basic cleavage that most hard-liners would favor basically pulling out of the NPT, the Nonproliferation Treaty, if need be, going the way of North Korean, thumbing their nose at the IAEA because they regard it as an American stooge at this stage, whereas most reformists quietly favor compliance and getting back in with the international community and doing what it takes to have that happen.

AMANPOUR: Is there any sense -- and of course we're talking about the discovery, apparently, of weapons grade uranium, even in small traces. But is there any sense that if they don't comply they could go the way of Iraq? I mean, is there a sense that this is a very major crisis?

MUIR: I think there is a general sense of the gravity of it. And that at the very least it could mean another period of international isolation, sanctions and so on. I think most people here see it in terms of sanctions rather than actual military activity by the United States and coalition, because they see what's happening in Iraq. They, I think, have a basic sense that there are very few voices even in the United States calling for military action by the United States and its coalition allies against Iran itself.

However, people would not rule out the Israelis taking the law into their own hands and perhaps taking advantage of the prevailing climate to step in and hit Bashir (ph) and Natan (ph), perhaps other targets. That wouldn't be ruled out at all, and there have been some pretty war-like noises from Iranians warning that if that should happen, Iran is ready to respond in a very harsh manner indeed.

And, of course, we had that big military parade here a few days ago, showing off their Shihad-3 (ph) missiles and so on. So there's a bit of saber rattling going on here on that issue.

AMANPOUR: We'll just point out that the reference to Israel you were referencing of course refers back to when Israel took out the Iraqi reactor and you were talking about the Iranian reactors there.

What do the ordinary people think about this issue? Or is it not something that they're paying much attention to?

MUIR: I would say most people are following it pretty closely, yes. They're, I think, kind of a lot of ordinary people are fairly unhappy about the idea that they may be going for nuclear weapons. There's a bit of national pride. Some people think they should have them, but they're not too happy to see them in the hands of the current regime. Most people would like to see relations with America. There have been opinion polls showing that 70 percent of Iranians would favor at least opening talks with the Americans. Of course, relations have been broken off since 1979 when militants took over the U.S. embassy here.

So people do feel that there's a kind of estrangement. There is, however, as I say, traces of sort of national pride, that they feel that perhaps, you know, because India and Pakistan have got nuclear weapons, Israel has got a nuclear arsenal, nobody says anything about that. Why shouldn't we have them too?

But realistically, I think they do want to be part of the international community and if that means, you know, giving up that particular ambition, then most people would go along with that, I think.

AMANPOUR: Jim Muir, thanks so much for joining us from Tehran. A very interesting and important beat, certainly, over the next few weeks and months.

Thank you so much.

And now a roundup of media news from around the world this week.

On Thursday, a bomb exploded outside a hotel housing the offices of the U.S. television network NBC in Baghdad, this raising fears of attacks against the international media. A Somali guard was killed and an NBC sound engineer was slightly injured.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the next logical evolution of these attacks. After all, if you do one kind of attack again and again, it just really doesn't get much in the way of coverage. In fact, if there were a bomb outside of town that killed one person, most people probably wouldn't go to it anymore. So it's a tactically interesting and smart way, from their perspective, of gaining a good deal more attention.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: Zimbabwe's last independent newspaper, "The Daily News," is still unable to publish. Government forces have again raided the offices this week, but it is being published in South Africa. The "Mail and Guardian" of South Africa has given over four of its pages to "The Daily News."

In the ongoing battle between Robert Mugabe's regime and the press, journalists are having to use all sorts of devices to get around being closed down.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAM NOKOMA, "THE DAILY NEWS": It's quite obvious and very frustrating, both for me and my staff, but we are thinking of also some things to keep ourselves busy and together. Until such time that there is democracy, there is an exchange of government (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and that will respect the rule of law. Until that happens, the future of the independent press is bleak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: An Iranian judge has again charged a suspect in the country's intelligence ministry with the murder of a Canadian journalist. Zahra Kazemi, an Iranian-Canadian, died July 10, three weeks after being detained for taking photos outside a prison in Tehran.

The man charged is one of two intelligence agents who previously were charged with Ms. Kazemi's murder. But prosecutors then rejected the original charges.

The Reuters news agency and the advocacy group Reports Sans Frontieres are condemning the U.S. military's decision to withhold its full report into the death of an award-winning Palestinian cameraman in Baghdad.

Mazan Dana was shot by a U.S. soldier August 17. The United States says its investigation found the soldier was acting within the rules of engagement, but the U.S. authorities are refusing to reveal what those rules are or to provide any details of their investigation.

And before we go, a tribute to two leading figures in the media, Edward Said, the intellectual, journalist and author who championed the Palestinian cause died after a long battle with cancer. And in Britain, the well-known political columnist Hugo Young also died of cancer. He worked at "The Guardian" newspaper and was also a contributor to this program.

And that's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. Tune in again next time for another look at how the media are reporting the big issues.

I'm Christiane Amanpour. Thank you for joining us.

END

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