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Q&A: ElBaradei, Feeling the Nuclear Heat

What is the timeline for Iran getting a nuclear weapon?

It depends on whether they have been doing weaponization. We haven't seen signs of that. But they have the know-how. If they resume the fuel cycle, they should be able to get the fissile material within a year or two. If they have that, they are a year away from a weapon. It's a matter of time, because they have the know-how and the industrial infrastructure.

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

What is the best way to stop Iran from going nuclear?

You need inspections, but you need to also work with them diplomatically. If a country is suspected of going nuclear, you need to understand why. Why does it feel insecure? You need to address [Iran's] sense of isolation and its need for technology and economic [benefits]. They have been under sanctions for 20 years.

What role should the U.S. play?

I'd like to see the Americans join a dialogue either with the Europeans or directly with the Iranians. I don't think you will get a permanent solution of the Iranian issue without full U.S. engagement. The U.S. can't afford to sit on the fence. There's a lot at stake having to do with security of the [Persian] Gulf and the Middle East. The U.S. engages with North Korea so I don't see why they can't engage with Iran.

There is talk of a U.S. strike against the Iranian nuclear program.

The Europeans are engaging Iran. Thus, talk about military activities at this stage is very unhelpful. I cannot see how a military solution can resolve the Iran issue. In my view, with Iran having [reached] almost self-sufficiency in the technology, the Iranians will go underground. . . . You might delay them, but they will rebuild it with the objective of having a weapon.

Does the fact that Israel has a nuclear weapon drive Iran to acquire one?

They say there is a security imbalance, but Iran also looks at Pakistan, Russia and Iraq. . . . More and more countries are trying to acquire nuclear weapons or nuclear know-how. So [either] there are going to be 20 or 30 countries with nuclear weapons, or we must move to say nuclear weapons are a recipe for disaster and we need a security system that does not rely on them.

You have an idea on how to stop countries from getting complete fuel cycles -- the key to a nuclear program?

I argue that for every country to have an independent fuel cycle is the wrong way to go. Because any country which has a complete fuel cycle is a latent nuclear weapons country, in the sense that it is not far from making a nuclear weapon. What I propose is to give countries that need nuclear energy for peaceful purposes both the reactors and the necessary technology, but to have the fuel cycles controlled through international entities to make sure that the spent fuel is removed [so it couldn't be enriched or reprocessed to make nuclear weapons].

It has been reported that the U.S. Department of Defense has teams on the ground in Iran. Should they be turning over their intelligence information to you?

We have not been getting any new information on Iran recently. We have followed up all intelligence that came to us. Without intelligence, we have to rely only on our activities on the ground and in a large country like Iran, it is difficult.

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