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Q&A: ElBaradei, Feeling the Nuclear Heat

Sunday, January 30, 2005; Page B01

It is no secret that the Bush administration does not want to see Mohamed ElBaradei win a third term as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog. The administration views ElBaradei as too soft on Iran and too hard on Israel. But the real source of the administration's irritation may be ElBaradei's correct assessment before the war that there were no nuclear weapons in Iraq. In an interview with The Washington Post-Newsweek's Lally Weymouth at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland last week, ElBaradei, 62, discussed his frosty relationship with the administration and his goals for a third term -- curbing Iran's nuclear program, possibly engaging with North Korea and making sure that nuclear equipment has not fallen into terrorist hands.

Excerpts:


Mohamed ElBaradei wants a third term as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. (Leonhard Foeger -- Reuters)

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Weymouth: Are you going to run for a third term?

ElBaradei: I am. I am the only candidate.

Why does the U.S. want to get rid of you?

They say they believe in a two-term policy for heads of international organizations, but most other countries have asked me to continue because we are in the middle of a war and we have a lot of important issues: Iran is still a major issue, and as for North Korea -- I'd like to see some progress there before I go.

Before the war, you said Iraq had no nuclear weapons. Is this what the administration has against you?

I don't know. Someone told me it is dangerous to be wrong but even more dangerous to be right. Frankly, I think we can ill afford to be distracted by the issue of who is going to be director general.

Now the Bush administration is arguing that you are not tough enough on Iran. Your reaction?

It depends how you define soft. The results in Iran are something I am quite proud of. Eighteen months ago, Iran was a black box -- we didn't know much about what was happening. Now, we have a fairly good picture of what is happening. We understand how complex and extensive that program is. Through our tenacity, Iran's facilities that could produce fissile material are frozen. And we are still going everywhere we think we need to go to be sure there are no undeclared activities in Iran. Between our tenacious verification and the diplomatic process, I hope we will be able to get a package solution in Iran, which is what we want to have with North Korea.

U.S. experts say that Iran has cheated and lied about its nuclear program, and continues to do so.

Iran has clearly cheated in the past -- that is something we reported. Corrective action was taken. Now, they say they are embarking on a new path of cooperation and since then they are cooperating. If they are still cheating, we haven't seen any evidence of that. . . . When they cheated, we said so. When they are cooperating, we say so. We have been supervising their suspension of fuel cycle activities. Recently, we got access to a partial military site.

How can Iran justify its full nuclear fuel cycle as part of a peaceful program?

They gave the Europeans a presentation on this, [saying] they plan for a large nuclear power program. They probably can make a technical justification. The argument they also make is that they have been isolated so they have to be self-sufficient. That's why the European dialogue is important. If a country felt its needs were going to be satisfied, they might not have to go for an independent fuel cycle.


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