Work in Progress

Q&A with Mohamed ElBaradei

Hours after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. ElBaradei sat down for a candid conversation with CNN anchor Jonathan Mann whose probing questions spotlighted the world’s most contentious problems. Following are excerpts from this CNN broadcast.

Jonathan Mann (JM): Dr. ElBaradei, do you think of yourself as a detective?

ElBaradei (ElB): Well, I think of my organization as a detective. I manage this organization, so I’m referred to sometimes as a chief detective. I don’t know all the detective tools, but I know how to work with detectives.


JM: Let me ask you about one of the cases in the news recently: North Korea. Your agency has been shut out for three years now. Since 2002, Pyongyang has not allowed any inspectors into the country. What have they been up to and what kind of weapons do you think they’ve built in that time?

ElB: Well, I think in North Korea, we’re in a better situation to have an opinion, unlike India, Israel, Pakistan because we’ve never really done proper verification. In Korea, as we were there up until three years ago, we know they have plutonium. We know they have plutonium that could go into weapons; we know they have enough plutonium for weapons. They said that they weaponized that material. We know they have the infrastructure to weaponize, so I would not be surprised that they have plutonium weapons.


JM: The detective work aside, why bother? Why bother getting all the scientific information and what faith should we have in all these efforts if, at the end of the day, we know they have something terrible, and it’s been years, and there’s been very little done about it.

ElB: I think that question has to absolutely be addressed. In 1992, we reported North Korea to the Security Council. We said they are in non-compliance with their non-proliferation obligation. In 2003, again, we reported them back and said they are in further non-compliance; they kicked us out. I still need to hear from the Security Council.


JM: On that note, and you make an important point, let’s go back to Iran. Does the IAEA have a bigger problem than Iran does? Everyone is talking about the threat of reporting Iran to the Security Council. What happens if the IAEA does exactly that? Reports Iran the way it reported North Korea, and again, nothing happens. Non-proliferation is exposed as a system that has no enforcement and no one really tried to make sure it works. Is Iran a crisis for your agency as much or more than it is for leaders in Tehran?

ElB: I think it’s a crisis for the world, and not for the IAEA. Our role is an early warning system. We did sound the alarm as early as 1992 on North Korea. Nothing was done. We did sound the alarm in Iran three years ago. Things have not been going the way they should have been going.


JM: Let me interrupt you on that thought. How nervous are you about sounding the alarm this time? Not because of what you find in Iran, and not because of your anxieties, but because of your fear of the UN Security Council doing nothing again?

ElB: I have to sound the alarm because it is my job to sound the alarm. I hope then that somebody picks up the pieces, which is the Security Council. I mentioned this morning that you need a compliance mechanism so that countries cannot get away with murder. If a country is not fulfilling its obligation, they need to be taken to account. North Korea was not the best example, but again, when you talk about the Security Council, you really talk about different varieties of options. You talk about understanding the underlying issues, trying to have a peaceful settlement. You talk about sanctions; you talk about, ultimately, using force. So, the Security Council does not necessarily mean using force; it means coercive measures. It means sanctions. It means primarily, trying to get a dialogue going between parties and trying to find a peaceful solution. But I agree with you. The system does not have enough teeth right now. It is on-again, off-again. In the case of North Korea, nothing was done. So, we need to have an even system of compliance.


JM: It has been an interesting year for the IAEA, Director General. You’re sitting here, and you’re the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. One year ago this time, the Bush administration was trying to push you out of your job. Dr. ElBaradei, what was it like contradicting the President of the US, the Vice-President of the US, the entire Administration on weapons on Iraq?

ElB: I think I was just simply doing my job. I was not supposed to be liked by everybody.


JM: Couldn’t have been easy though. It had to make for a few sleepless nights.

ElB: It was not easy. I didn’t lose sleep on that issue. I lost sleep over reports about being wiretapped, not being able to talk to my daughter without being listened to. I did not really lose sleep about stating what I believed was absolutely the correct facts. We are not to be liked; we are to be respected. That’s the key for me.


JM: Does the war in Iraq, does the entire experience change everything? And I mean that with respect to trusting the evidence of Member States, with respect to assembling a consensus about what the evidence might mean among countries as different as Russia, China and the US. Does it mean that sanctions are harder to impose because no one trusts the information that’s now at hand? And because Iraq suggests, to countries around the world, that if they don’t have nuclear weapons, they’re subject to regime change. Does Iraq change everything for you?

ElB: Iraq has changed a lot, not just for me, but for everybody. Lots of lessons to learn from Iraq. We need to be careful about intelligence. We need not jump the gun. We need to see if use of force is better than enduring with diplomacy. There are a lot of lessons we’re all going through, but everybody understands that we cannot just focus on the past. We have so much ahead of us. Terrorism, dissemination of nuclear weapons; we just can’t afford to disagree. We need to continue to work together—Member States, intelligence, international organizations, individuals. The threats we are facing are so overwhelming that we need to put our differences behind. That’s what we did and that’s what the new Bush administration has done.

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