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Q&A: ElBaradei, Feeling the Nuclear Heat

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty comes up for review in May. Negotiations are said to be in disarray. Your view?

I am discouraged that I have not seen much substantive preparation for that conference. People are tinkering around the edges, but we have not seen serious discussions on substance.

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

The U.S. Department of Energy wasinterested in doing research on nuclear bunker busters and other nuclear equipment.

That sent the wrong message -- you can't tell everyone "don't touch nuclear weapons" while continuing to build them.

Egypt has been reported as engaging in experiments with nuclear materials.

As the Egyptian government said recently, there was a failure in reporting certain experiments, but they do not have a weapons program. . . . It comes back to a sense of frustration -- a sense of instability. As part of the peace process, we must engage in a parallel security dialogue. You will not get peace simply by saying here is a Palestinian state. You need a security structure undergirding the peace process, dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

Are you saying that frustration over the Palestinian issue has led to Egypt's experimenting in nuclear technology?

No, I am saying there is a sense of a security imbalance in the Middle East.

Because Israel has a nuclear weapon?

There's a lot of frustration because Israel is outside the [nuclear nonproliferation] regime. Egypt should not have done this. South Korea also did some undeclared experiments recently.

Do you believe some terrorist groups have actually acquired nuclear materials?

It is a real possibility. If it were to happen, it would have disastrous consequences -- a terror group could acquire a stolen nuclear weapon, or enough material to develop a crude nuclear weapon. We know there has been a lot of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials -- even some kilogram quantities of highly enriched uranium.

Do you think a terror group actually has a nuclear device?

I cross my fingers . . . but I cannot say 100 percent that it hasn't happened. Remember, after the Cold War, there was a period of time when lots of nuclear material was not adequately protected in the former Soviet Union. I hope nothing significant went to a terrorist group, but it would be irresponsible for me to exclude it.

Has al Qaeda acquired these weapons?

We know they were interested. In Afghanistan, there were documents looking at the possibility of developing or acquiring a nuclear device. It is unlikely, but it is a scenario one cannot exclude.

What are the prospects of the IAEA getting into North Korea?

I'd like to go back and dismantle the program -- if they have nuclear weapons. Time is not in favor of the international community. North Korea has plutonium for sure -- enough to make at least six to eight bombs. Like Iran, we should discuss their security concerns and their sense of isolation and bring a generous offer which would enable them to give up their nuclear ambitions. North Korea has been in noncompliance for 12 years, and that has given them time to develop nuclear capability.

Do you think it is unfair that the Bush administration is trying to kick you out?

If reelected, I will continue to do things the way I see best. It's very important to me that this multinational institution continue to be impartial and independent. I will not compromise on this. I don't know who wants me out. They say they want a rotation policy. I have spent almost 30 years of my life doing this, and before I cross to the other side, I want to get the Iran issue out of the way and get to the bottom of the A.Q. Khan [former head of Pakistan's nuclear program] network -- he provided the complete kit [for a nuclear weapon] to Libya.

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