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Transcripts of Interviews

Transcript of the Director General's Interview on Iran, Iraq, North Korea

CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Aired 2 November 2003 - 12:00 ET

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. (See CNN.com).

BLITZER: Turning now to the threat of nuclear weapons, was Saddam Hussein's regime in the process of trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program? Will North Korea step back from its nuclear program? And how far along is Iran in its program?

Joining us from New York, the director of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

Dr. ElBaradei, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

I want to go through all three of these areas. First, Iraq. Looking back on what you know now, in the aftermath of the war, what you knew then, was Iraq, in recent years, since '98 at least, was there any evidence Iraq had actually reconstituted its nuclear weapons program?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: So far, I don't believe so, Wolf. And I think all what we have seen so far support our tentative conclusion before the war, that we haven't seen any evidence that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapon program. However, I think it would be prudent for us to go back to Iraq as soon as we can and, frankly, finish the job. It would also be good if the report of the Survey Group were to be shared with us insofar as the nuclear aspect of it.

We need to bring that file to closure. We need to assure the international community that Iraq is completely clean from any effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapon program.

BLITZER: So, in other words, what you would like is for the U.S. and the coalition forces in Iraq to let the International Atomic Energy Agency, your inspectors, as well as the other U.N. weapons inspectors, go back in there right now to work together to resolve some of these unanswered questions?

ELBARADEI: I'm not sure how will the modalities of our work, Wolf. What I know, that we still have a mandate by the Security Council. We have the experience. We have 10 years of experience working in Iraq, and we have the credibility. And I think it would be in the interest of everybody if we go back sooner than later, both us and the U.N. inspectors for chemical and biological weapons.

BLITZER: Well, what does the Bush administration tell you when you make this proposal to them?

ELBARADEI: Well, I think they have said that they still would review with the Security Council our mandate. We're still waiting on the wings. I haven't really gotten a clear answer.

But I think it is in the interest of the U.S., it's in the interest of everybody that we go back and finish the job.

BLITZER: Exactly a year before the war, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, was on this program, was on LATE EDITION. Listen to what he said. Listen to what he said then.


RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time, and we think that's cause for concern for us and for everybody in the region.


BLITZER: And then, on February 5th of this year, just before the war, the secretary of state, Colin Powell, was at the U.N. Security Council. You were there that day as well, and he said this. Listen to this.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons program. On the contrary, we have more than a decade of proof that he remains determined to acquire nuclear weapons.


BLITZER: Were both the vice president and the secretary of state of the United States wrong?

ELBARADEI: Well, I'm not - Wolf, I'm not questioning their intentions. I'm sure they were concerned, as we were.

However, these statements were not supported by the facts as we have seen them, and I don't think we have today any evidence to support the statement that Iraq was trying to develop its - or reconstitute its nuclear weapons.

We still are open - we are not closing the file. If there are additional evidence, we'd like to look at them and make a final decision on that issue.

I think we cannot continue with an open question you know, forever, whether Iraq had or had not attempted to develop its nuclear weapon program. So that's why I have said, Wolf, it would be good, prudent for us to go back.

BLITZER: David Kay, who's now in charge of the U.S. effort to look for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, released his preliminary report early in October. Among other things, he said this.

He said, "Despite evidence of Saddam's continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date, we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material."

Do you feel vindicated by that preliminary conclusion?

ELBARADEI: Well, I feel relieved. I'm not sure, you know, I would say vindicated. I feel relieved that Iraq does not have nuclear weapon capability, that they did not start to resuscitate their weapon program.

But I'd like to share - that the administration shared that report with us. We have not seen that report. I'd like to see it, because it might shed additional light, which would help us in our future activities in Iraq.

So, thank God that we - that our conclusion before the war has been validated so far

BLITZER: I want to briefly move on to two other areas, North Korea and Iran. First, North Korea. Where does the North Korean nuclear weapons program stand right now? You would like to get IAEA inspectors back into North Korea. It doesn't look like that's about to happen.

ELBARADEI: Well, we're waiting in the wings, so to speak, Wolf. I think we need to go back. The sooner, again, we go back, the better. North Korea have the nuclear weapons capability, if not nuclear weapon already. We don't know, because we've been out for a year now. It's bad precedent that you walk out of the nonproliferation regime and start applying a policy of nuclear brinkmanship. So how we handle the North Korean situation will be a very important precedent.

And I think the best way to handle it is for North Korea to accept comprehensive verification, dismantlement of its nuclear weapon program, if they have a nuclear weapon program. But in return, get the security assurance that they badly need, and in return, also, the international community would look at the humanitarian and energy needs, which are, again, badly needed in a country that is suffering from famine at this stage.

BLITZER: The other area that you've been spending a lot of your time involves Iran. There was a deadline at the end of the October for Iran to comply with a nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which it (ph) has signed and ratified. Are the Iranians cooperating with you now?

ELBARADEI: I think we are - for the last few weeks, Wolf, we are making good and steady progress on three fronts: on mapping out the past nuclear activities, Iran finally agreed to come with a full disclosure, and we have received, in the last 10 days, what I was assured a complete and accurate declaration. We are in the process of verifying that declaration.

We have seen additional failures, breaches of their commitment in the past, as they have themselves have stated. So I'm going to report that next month to our board of governors.

We are also making progress on regulating the future. And Iran has indicated that they are going to send me next week a letter signaling the readiness to conclude an additional protocol. That's a new legal document that give me an additional authority, in terms of information and access. So that's positive.

The third front that we are also talking to Iran and trying to implement an agreement they've reached with the three European - the German, the French and the British - on suspending all enrichment and reprocessing activities, a sensitive aspect of their fuel cycle (ph) which is as a confidence-building measure.

So I think these are three important steps. We are moving forward, but we still have a lot of work to do, Wolf. And I would like to, again, be able to come to grips with that program sooner than later, but I can assure you, we are implementing a full-court press right now.

BLITZER: Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, always good to speak to you. Thanks very much for joining us on LATE EDITION.