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Transcripts of Interviews

Transcript of the Interview with IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei

CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Aired September 19, 2004 - 12:00 ET

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BLITZER: Iran rejected new demands by the world´s nuclear watchdog agency today, with the United States warning Iran is moving closer and closer to producing nuclear weapons.

Joining us now, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. He´s joining us from Vienna, Austria.

Thanks very much, Dr. ElBaradei, for joining us.

I want to get to Iran and North Korea in a moment, but on the fundamental question of nuclear terrorism, how concerned, how worried should the world be that terrorist organizations like al Qaeda could get their hands on a crude nuclear device?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: Well, we´re still very concerned about it, Wolf. I think we should not lose any vigilance. Just this weekend, in fact, we had a conference here with the participation of Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to look at what more can we do to protect ourself, radioactive sources, nuclear materials.

I think we´re doing well. I think we´re doing all we can, but we are in a race against time, as I have said before, so we should continue to do all we can do.

It is easier for them to probably get access to radioactive source, which is not a nuclear explosion, but we cannot exclude the possibility they can have a nuclear device.

And so we should continue on the path we are doing, put as much resources, protect all vulnerable facilities, all vulnerable nuclear material around the world, Wolf.

BLITZER: And those so-called loose nukes in Russia, in the former Soviet Union, is everything being done that must be done to protect the nuclear equipment and a nuclear bomb, if you will, that could be smuggled out of there?

ELBARADEI: A lot are being done. We are not the one who are doing that. That´s mostly bilateral between the U.S. and Russia. But what I understand from Sam Nunn and others, we can do more. I think we need to allocate more resources and we need to accelerate the process, Wolf.

BLITZER: How close is Iran, in your estimate, right now to building a nuclear bomb?

ELBARADEI: Well, I hate to speculate, Wolf, but let me put it this way: We haven´t seen in Iran any material imported or produced that could be used for nuclear weapon. That is the good news. We haven´t also seen any of their small experiment directly related to a nuclear weapon program. However, I should add that this program has been going on for almost two decades. We´re still going through a lot of investigation. We are making good progress and understanding the nature and extent of the program.

So I´m not sure we are facing an imminent threat, but we are facing Iran acquiring, if not already acquired, a capability to produce the material that can be used of nuclear weapon should they decide to do that.

It´s really a question of intention. And the international community is concerned because that program has been undeclared for a couple of decades, because that Iran - part of the ability to produce uranium is much ahead of its program to produce electricity, so there is really no urgency for Iran to continue with the speed it is going developing enrichment of uranium.

And that´s why the international community, in fact, yesterday have asked Iran once more, as a confidence-building measure, to put a hold, to suspend all enrichment-related activities, unless we go fully through our investigation and provide assurance that this program is exclusively for peaceful purpose.

I hope Iran will heed the call by the international community. It is really in the interest of Iran, Wolf, to build confidence. I believe should confidence is built in the next few...

BLITZER: I was going to say, Dr. ElBaradei, but the Iranians have already rejected this latest appeal from the IAEA. As you know, the United States, the Bush administration is urging you to refer this matter to the United Nations Security Council where sanctions potentially could be imposed against Iran. How close are you to doing that?

ELBARADEI: Well, I´m supposed to present a report by the end of November to our governing board, so I still have a couple of months.

I´m not sure Iran, reading what Iran have stated today, they have rejected it. They have said it is not a legal obligation, but it is a confidence-building measure.

I take that to be correct. I mean, the board said this is a confidence-building measure. We should not really tinker around about legalities.

What I am asking Iran for, please build the confidence, please work with me to build the confidence through the Agency, please allow us to verify all outstanding issues.

If we can do that, then we can trigger a political dialogue, which Iran has already started with the Europeans.

To me, ultimately, we need to clarify every issue about the nuclear weapon program, and then engage Iran in a comprehensive political dialogue that discuss security, economic, human rights. This is the only way we can proceed for a durable solution, in my view, Wolf.

BLITZER: The other major concern involving a nuclear bomb, North Korea right now. I know the IAEA has been deeply involved in that.

First of all, do you know what that so-called mushroom cloud that was spotted over North Korea a week or so ago was?

ELBARADEI: I think as far as we know, we were told by our sister organization that monitoring explosive devices, that it doesn´t look like a nuclear explosion. But we are not 100 percent sure.

BLITZER: Well, are you suggesting that they may have tested a nuclear bomb already, North Korea?

ELBARADEI: I think it´s unlikely, Wolf. It is unlikely, but we are not there. We cannot really validate this conclusion for sure.

BLITZER: Because as you know, they´ve allowed some diplomats to go in and inspect. And the suggestion that we´re getting from U.S. officials, from Bush administration officials, including Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, is they don´t believe it was a nuclear test, although they can´t rule out that the North Koreans would undertake a nuclear test at some point in the relatively near future.

How close is North Korea, in your opinion, in your estimate, to going forward with a test?

ELBARADEI: Well, I know for sure that North Korea have the plutonium that they need for a nuclear weapon. I know for sure that we have been away for two years without any inspection in North Korea.

So I do not exclude at all that they have assembled a nuclear weapon or more than one nuclear weapon, Wolf. That will not surprise me. They have the facile material. They have the industrial infrastructure.

Whether they need to go for a test, whether they do a computer simulation, the fact remains that they are a nuclear-capable country. And the sooner we tried to attack this problem, again, like a political dialogue through all the concerned parties, the better for the world and our security.

BLITZER: And just very briefly before I let you go, are you leaving the door slightly open to the possibility that that mushroom cloud that was spotted was, in fact, a nuclear test?

ELBARADEI: I am leaving the door open, Wolf. I think I would like to go there. Our expert would go there. If North Korea would like to exclude that possibility completely, they would be well advised to allow us and other experts to go and inspect that. As long as we are not there, I cannot exclude that possibility 100 percent.

BLITZER: Dr. Mohammed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

ELBARADEI: Thank you very much, Wolf, for having me.