A Conversation with Mohamed ElBaradei

Mohamed El Baradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, attends a question & answer session with the press during the second day of the Leaders in Dubai Business Forum, Monday, Nov. 17, 2008 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Nousha Salimi)
Mohamed El Baradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, attends a question & answer session with the press during the second day of the Leaders in Dubai Business Forum, Monday, Nov. 17, 2008 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP Photo/Nousha Salimi) (Nousha Salimi - AP)

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

As director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), did Mohamed ElBaradei soft-pedal Iran's nuclear ambitions to ensure that the Bush administration wouldn't attack that country? That's what many in the former administration, as well as nonproliferation experts of various political backgrounds, assert. Last week, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, ElBaradei sat down with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth to defend his record. Excerpts:

Q: Some in the United States claim that between 2003 and 2007, you protected Iran because you did not want to see a U.S. military attack on it. In retrospect, do you think you allowed Iran to push the limits?

A. This is a complete misunderstanding. We have done as much as we can do in Iran to make sure that we understand the history and the present status of their program, to try to push them as far as we can within our authority to come clean. The idea people have that we are God, that we are able to cross borders, open doors . . . . We don't have that authority. . . . I am very proud that within the limited authority we have, we have been able to understand the scope of the most sensitive part of the Iranian program, which is the enrichment program, which is now under complete agency inspection.

The Iranian enrichment program is now under inspection?

We know how much they produce in terms of enriched uranium.

Highly enriched uranium?

Low-enriched uranium. Iran was cooperating even more before. They cut the cooperation . . . when they were taken to the Security Council in 2005. That was a political decision. . . . I have said for the past six years that the policy of building trust between the West (and the United States in particular) and Iran has failed completely. We haven't moved one iota.

Do you think it is possible?

I think it is possible. I have been counseling privately and publicly that this is not going to happen unless there is a direct dialogue.

What do you mean, this is not going to happen?

Trust-building. You're not going to have trust unless you have a direct dialogue. President Obama is saying he's ready to have a direct dialogue without preconditions, based on mutual respect. I say this is absolutely overdue.


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