IAEA Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, reiterated to the international news media today that only through the introduction of new, on-the-ground inspections could the IAEA provide assurances of Iraq's compliance with UN Security Council resolutions.
"Until we are able to return to Iraq for extensive inspections, we can draw no conclusions nor make any definitive statements, said Dr. ElBaradei. "Even if we do return there," he added, "it could take up to one year to draw definitive conclusions."
When asked if the IAEA had any new evidence concerning Iraq's efforts to develop nuclear weapons, Dr. ElBaradei explained that recent stories in the news media had distorted a statement concerning satellite photographs. "We do have access to commercial satellite images of specific facilities in Iraq; and some of those images show changes," explained Dr, ElBaradei. "But we have not been physically present in Iraq since 1998, and without the return of inspectors we cannot verify anything. It's not our job to speculate but to provide substantive findings."
Asked if IAEA inspectors could uncover any new evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapon development effort, Dr. ElBaradei said that the Agency has powerful tools which can detect the presence of radioactivity and nuclear materials. "On site inspections cannot provide 100% certainty on the question," he said. "But even a 90% level of assurance is better than what we have without being there."
On the issue of nuclear security, Dr. ElBaradei told reporters that good progress has been made over the past year in strengthening international agreements governing the physical protection of nuclear materials and radioactive sources. "Even before the catastrophic events of September 11, we were advocating strongly that nuclear safety and security issues be dealt with together," said Dr. ElBaradei. "Now we are moving forward rapidly toward a new, more comprehensive international convention on protecting nuclear materials, alongside a stronger code of conduct for protection of radioactive sources," he said.
Regarding international efforts to prevent access to radioactive materials by terrorists to deploy a "dirty bomb," Dr. ElBaradei explained that the IAEA has been directly involved in numerous efforts in many countries to secure unprotected or "orphaned" radioactive sources, and that further efforts were under way. Over the past year, the IAEA has put in place a comprehensive Action Plan for combating nuclear terrorism with an annual budget of $12 million, Dr. Elbaradei explained.
"We were very pleased with the announcement today by US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham that the United States has made another $3 million pledge in support of these efforts," he said. -- by David Kinley, Division of Public Information