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Statement at the EGMONT Royal Institute for International Relations

Vienna Austria

Good afternoon, everyone.

I am very pleased to speak to you today.

The Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations is highly regarded throughout the world for the excellence of its research, especially in European and African affairs, and the high calibre of its alumni.

I am sure that many of you came here today expecting me to talk about Iran’s nuclear programme. And I will.

But I would also like to talk to you about cancer control in developing countries, child nutrition, the eradication of the tsetse fly, and food and agriculture.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is active in all of these areas - and in many others.

The importance of science and technology for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is widely recognized. As a scientific and technical organization, the IAEA is an important partner in development.

Through our technical cooperation programme, we help to make peaceful nuclear technology available in fields where nuclear techniques have an advantage over others, or where they can complement conventional technologies.

Let me give you just a few examples.

Cancer is reaching epidemic proportions in developing countries, but many lack the resources to deal with it. In fact, several dozen African nations have absolutely no radiotherapy facilities.

The IAEA, together with partners such as the World Health Organization, helps to make radiotherapy, medical physics, nuclear medicine, and imaging services available to developing countries. We provide training for medical and technical specialists and help them to gain access to modern technology.

Another example: tsetse flies infest vast areas of Africa. They transmit a parasitic disease which devastates livestock herds and spreads "sleeping sickness" among human beings.

The IAEA deploys what is known as the sterile insect technique, which is essentially a form of contraception for tsetse flies. Male flies are sterilised using radiation. They are then released into affected areas, where they mate with wild females. These do not produce offspring.

This technique can eventually eradicate entire populations of tsetse flies, as happened in Zanzibar in 1999. Belgium's Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp is an important partner for us in combating the tsetse fly.

The IAEA also makes nuclear techniques available to produce new varieties of crops, such as rice or barley, which can grow in difficult conditions. This has enabled farmers in countries as far apart as Vietnam and Peru to produce abundant food crops.

I mentioned child nutrition. In May, we will host an international symposium on understanding moderate malnutrition in children. Our contribution in this area involves the use of stable isotope techniques to monitor whether or not children are getting enough to eat.

So, as you see, we are much more than the "nuclear watchdog" which the media like to write about.

But a central IAEA function is, indeed, to verify that countries are not working to acquire nuclear weapons. We do this by implementing safeguards.

Our inspectors are constantly on the road visiting nuclear facilities all around the world, including here in Belgium. We provide factual, objective reports to our Board of Governors.

We are a technical organization, not a political one. But we operate in a highly political environment and our work can have important political implications.

The main safeguards issue on our agenda in recent years has been Iran.

For years, the Agency has carried out routine safeguards work at declared facilities in Iran. But there was virtually no movement in our efforts to resolve all outstanding issues about the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, including those related to possible military dimensions.

In my quarterly reports to the Board, I stated that nuclear material declared by Iran was not being diverted from peaceful purposes. But I added that Iran was not providing sufficient cooperation to enable the Agency to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran was in peaceful activities.

Late last year, we started to see some movement.

In November, China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States agreed on a Joint Plan of Action with Iran.

The Plan is aimed at achieving "a mutually-agreed long-term comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran's nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful."

The seven countries asked the IAEA to undertake monitoring and verification of voluntary measures to be implemented by Iran. The Board of Governors gave the go-ahead and we have started work under the Joint Plan of Action.

Separately, the IAEA agreed on a Framework for Cooperation with Iran under which Iran agreed to implement six practical measures within three months. A follow-up meeting will take place in Tehran next week. I hope we will identify the next measures envisaged under the Framework.

After many years of standstill, these are encouraging developments. But, as I told our Board of Governors, there is still a long way to go before a comprehensive solution to the Iran nuclear issue is achieved.

The Agency is doing all it can, through its verification work, to bring about such a solution.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The work of the IAEA goes well beyond technical cooperation and safeguards.

In recent years, we have been active in helping Japan deal with the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident and improving global safety standards to ensure that such an accident does not happen again.

We work closely with countries with nuclear power programmes, and those planning to build their first reactors, to help them operate their power plants safely and efficiently.

Our role in nuclear security is growing steadily, in response to demand from Member States. This is about ensuring that nuclear and other radioactive material, as well as nuclear facilities, are properly protected.

You can imagine how devastating the consequences would be if a dirty bomb – involving conventional explosives and radioactive material – was detonated in a major city.

Our work encompasses everything from supplying radiation detection equipment for countries to use at ports and airports, to helping protect major public events against nuclear terrorism.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA’s mission is often summarized in the slogan Atoms for Peace. Despite constant change in the challenges we face, that remains a good summary of our work.

The IAEA is a truly fascinating organization and I could happily talk about our work for hours. But I will stop here so we can open up the discussion. Thank you.


Last update: 26 July 2017