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Statement to the Sixty-Fourth Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Vienna, Austria

New York, USA
United Nations General Assembly

This will be my last speech to the General Assembly as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Since I first spoke to you in 1998, the Agency has moved from being a relatively unknown technical organization, whose work was of interest mainly to specialists in the nuclear field, to becoming a major player at the centre of issues critical to international peace and security. The Agency has gained universal respect for its independence and objectivity in nuclear verification, safety and security. We have also made considerable progress in bringing the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology to developing countries, improving their access to energy, health care, food and clean water.

While I leave office after 12 years with pride in the IAEA´s many achievements, I must also express some disappointment. Disappointment that we are still fighting the same battles to secure sufficient funding as we were back in the 1990s; that the development side of our mandate remains chronically under-funded; and that we still lack adequate legal authority to do our job effectively in verification, safety and security. On a more positive note, nuclear disarmament, which failed to make any headway in the two decades since the end of the Cold War, is now back at the top of the international agenda and there is reason to hope that we may see a breakthrough.

I will return to this subject in a moment. First, I will outline some of the main changes in the work of the IAEA in the past 12 years and offer some thoughts on both the future of the Agency and the international environment in which it operates.

I will start with nuclear power. The world seems set for a significant expansion in the use of nuclear power, with scores of countries expressing interest in introducing it as part of their energy mix. Not surprisingly, most of these are from the developing world, which urgently needs a dramatic increase in electricity supply if it is to lift its people out of poverty. Energy is the engine of development. For many countries, nuclear power, with its good performance and safety record, is a way to meet their surging demand for energy, reduce their vulnerability to fluctuations in the cost of fossil fuels and combat climate change. The IAEA has adjusted its priorities to focus more on the nuclear power programmes of what we call the "newcomers."

Nuclear safety has improved significantly since the shock of Chernobyl in 1986, but the risk of accidents can never be eliminated completely. It is in all our interests to ensure that the highest safety standards are upheld everywhere. IAEA safety standards have become the global benchmark and have recently been adopted by the European Union. I would like to see the safety standards accepted by all countries and, ideally, made binding.

Turning to the development side of our mandate, the Agency is the principal vehicle for multilateral nuclear technology transfer, helping countries to use nuclear techniques in food and agriculture, human health, water resources and the environment.

Our technical cooperation activities have made a difference. For example, induced crop mutations involving nuclear techniques have produced salt-tolerant rice and drought-resistant wheat, providing better nutrition and food security and improving economic prospects for farmers. Likewise, isotope data provide a unique tool to determine the availability and vulnerability of groundwater systems over the long term, so that reliable supplies of fresh water can be secured for the next generation.

Our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) is bringing new hope to cancer patients and their families in developing countries, where the incidence of cancer continues to rise inexorably. Twenty-seven of the 53 countries in Africa, for example, have no operating radiotherapy services at all: no screening, no early diagnosis, no palliative care programmes. In other parts of Africa, there is one radiotherapy machine for every 70 million people. In Europe, by contrast, there is one machine for every 250,000 people.

Back in 1998, our Technical Cooperation Programme totalled a modest $80 million per year. Ten years later, in 2008, the programme disbursed $96 million - a negligible increase considering inflation and the growth in Agency membership from 127 countries to the present 150, as well as the increasing development needs of Member States. We can and should do much more, but that requires a significant increase in funding which regrettably has not been made available to us.

I urge donor states to recognise the link between security, which we all seek, and development. Without development, there can be no security - the reverse is also true. Improving life for the two billion people - one third of humanity - who live on less than $2 per day is not just the right thing to do; it is also the smart thing to do. By helping to address the root causes of instability and insecurity, including endemic conflicts, poor governance and poverty, we make it less likely that countries will feel the temptation to seek nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

The gravest threat the world faces today, in my opinion, is that extremists could get hold of nuclear or radioactive materials. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the IAEA initiated a comprehensive programme to combat the risk of nuclear terrorism. I am proud of the speed and efficiency with which the Agency established an effective nuclear security programme which has provided $50 million in equipment, training and other assistance to Member States in the last three years. But it is disconcerting that nuclear security continues to be funded almost entirely from voluntary contributions, which come with many conditions attached and are both insufficient and unpredictable. Much more needs to be done. The number of incidents of illicit trafficking and other unauthorised activities reported to our Illicit Trafficking Database – over 200 last year - remains a cause of grave concern and might well be only the tip of the iceberg.

The global non-proliferation landscape has changed radically in the last two decades. The way in which the Agency implements safeguards has also undergone a metamorphosis. We have moved beyond simple verification of declared nuclear material at declared facilities to assessing information on a State´s entire nuclear programme and, most importantly, verifying the absence of undeclared activities. The Model Additional Protocol, which was approved in 1997, has become an essential verification tool. Within the limited resources and capabilities available to us, we have made increasing use of advanced technology critical to verification today such as remote monitoring, environmental sampling and satellite imagery.

As I reported to the Security Council summit on nuclear disarmament in September, our ability to detect possible clandestine nuclear material and activities depends on the extent to which we are given the necessary legal authority, technology and resources. Regrettably, we face continuing major shortcomings in all three areas, which, if not addressed, could put the entire non-proliferation regime at risk. In over 90 states, the Agency either has no verification authority at all, or its authority is inadequate, because these countries have not concluded the necessary agreements with the Agency. That means we often cannot verify whether a country is engaged in clandestine nuclear activities.

Our credibility depends on our independence. Additional funding is urgently needed for state-of-the-art technology so that, for example, we can independently validate environmental sampling analyses. We also need improved and consistent access to top-quality satellite imagery. Continuing with budgets that fall far short of our essential verification needs in the coming years is not a viable option.

Iraq and the DPRK were the two cases of suspected nuclear proliferation preoccupying the international community when I took office. I will always lament the fact that a tragic war was launched in Iraq, which has cost the lives of possibly hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. This was done on the basis of a false pretext, without authorisation from the Security Council, and despite the Agency and the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission having found no evidence that Iraq had revived its nuclear weapons programme or programmes involving other weapons of mass destruction. It gives me no consolation that the Agency´s findings were subsequently vindicated.

In the case of the DPRK, sixteen years after the IAEA reported that country to the Security Council for non-compliance with its non-proliferation obligations, it has moved from the likely possession of undeclared plutonium to acquiring nuclear weapons. The on-again, off-again nature of the dialogue between the DPRK and the international community has stymied the resolution of this issue, which is a glaring example of the fragility and shortcomings of the non-proliferation regime.

Important lessons need to be learned from Iraq and the DPRK. The main one is that we must let diplomacy and thorough verification take their course, however lengthy and tiresome the process might be. We need to carefully assess the veracity of intelligence information. We must engage those with whom we have differences in dialogue rather than seeking to isolate them. We must act within the framework of international institutions - in this case, the IAEA and the Security Council - and empower them, rather than bypass them through unilateral action. The Agency, for its part, must draw conclusions justified by the facts only. It must not jump the gun or be influenced by political considerations. Force should never be used unless every other option has been exhausted, and then only within the bounds of international law, as codified in the United Nations Charter.

All of these lessons are applicable today in the case of Iran, whose nuclear programme remains an issue before both the Agency and the Security Council. Six years have passed since Iran was reported to the IAEA Board of Governors for failing to declare material and activities to the Agency, in violation of its safeguards agreement. As a result of difficult and painstaking work, the Agency has acquired a better understanding of Iran´s civil nuclear programme. Nevertheless, a number of questions and allegations relevant to the nature of that programme are still outstanding and need to be clarified by Iran through transparency and cooperation with the Agency. As I have pointed out many times, however, addressing the concerns of the international community about Iran´s future intentions is primarily a matter of confidence-building, which can only be achieved through dialogue.

I therefore urge Iran to be as forthcoming as possible in responding soon to my recent proposal, based on the initiative of the U.S., Russia and France, which aimed to engage Iran in a series of measures that could build confidence and trust and open the way for comprehensive and substantive dialogue between Iran and the international community. The issue at stake remains that of mutual guarantees amongst the parties. I should add, however, that trust and confidence-building are an incremental process that requires focussing on the big picture and a willingness to take risks for peace. This is a unique and fleeting opportunity to reverse course from confrontation to cooperation and should, therefore, not be missed.

The Agency cannot do its nuclear verification work in isolation. It depends on a supportive political process, with the Security Council at its core. The Council needs to develop an effective, comprehensive compliance mechanism that does not rely only on sanctions, which too often hurt the vulnerable and the innocent. It must focus more on conflict prevention and address the insecurities that lie behind many cases of proliferation, such as mistrust and unresolved conflict.

I have in the past drawn the General Assembly´s attention to the growing number of states that have mastered uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing. Any one of these states has the capacity to develop nuclear weapons in a short span of time - a margin of security which is too close for comfort. To address this challenge, which could be the Achilles Heel of non-proliferation, I believe that we need to move from national to multinational control of the nuclear fuel cycle. As a first step, I have proposed the establishment of a low enriched uranium bank to assure states a guaranteed last-resort supply of nuclear fuel for their reactors so that they might not need their own enrichment or reprocessing capability.

A number of complementary proposals have also been made. There are no technical or legal stumbling blocks that could not be overcome. The basic question is one of trust-building between states. I remain convinced that some such mechanism is essential as more and more countries introduce nuclear energy. Our ultimate goal should be the full multinationalization of the sensitive parts of the fuel cycle - uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing - as we move towards a world free from nuclear weapons.

Such a world is, I believe, within our grasp following the courageous initiative of President Obama and the resumption of serious disarmament negotiations between the two largest nuclear weapon states. Nuclear weapons are, regrettably, still seen as bringing power and prestige and providing an insurance policy against possible attack. However, by demonstrating their irreversible commitment to achieving a world free from nuclear weapons, the weapon states can greatly enhance the value and legitimacy of the non-proliferation regime and gain the moral authority to call on the rest of the world to curb the proliferation of these inhumane weapons. I do not expect to see a world free from nuclear weapons in my lifetime, but I am increasingly hopeful that my children may live in such a world, particularly in light of the growing realization that, with the technology out of the box and an increasing risk of nuclear terrorism, the danger of nuclear weapons being used has increased considerably. The recent adoption of resolution 1887 by the Security Council, pledging to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons, is encouraging. It is vital that the 2010 NPT Review Conference should build on this momentum.

It is clear that tremendous challenges, but also tremendous opportunities, lie ahead for the Agency. If nuclear disarmament proceeds successfully, as I hope it will, this could create a significant additional verification role for the Agency. In 50 years´ time, there may be several dozen additional countries with nuclear power programmes, mostly in what today is known as the developing world. This will mean a considerable increase in demand for the IAEA´s services in nuclear safety, security and verification.

The IAEA´s dual mandate of security and development is unique. But we are part of a complex web of international security mechanisms which need to work in harmony if we are to effectively serve the people who put their trust in us. I do not share the prevailing cynicism about international organizations. Like all human endeavours, they have their weaknesses. But they are capable of great things if properly resourced and empowered, and competently led. We live in an increasingly globalised world and none of the major problems we face - terrorism, hunger, arms control, climate change - can be solved by any one country alone. We need effective international institutions.

Ultimately, we need a new global system of collective security that entails an overhaul of the United Nations system and, above all, of the Security Council. A new system in which no country feels the need to rely on nuclear weapons for its security. A new system with effective global mechanisms for conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacemaking. An equitable and inclusive system in which security is not perceived as a zero sum game, or based on domination, or on a balance of power. A system that places human security and human solidarity at its core, that grasps our shared destiny as one human family and that enables all of us to live together free from fear and free from want.

In concluding, I take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to the Republic of Austria for being a most gracious and supportive host country of the IAEA. I congratulate my successor, Director General-elect Yukiya Amano, and wish him every success. I thank the General Assembly for its support during my 12 years as Director General. We have come through some challenging times together. It has been an honour and a privilege to work with all of you.


Last update: 26 Nov 2019

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