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Nuclear Challenge: Mohamed ElBaradei

January 6, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: North Korea and Iraq, the International Atomic Energy Agency has the responsibility for monitoring the nuclear weapons programs of both countries. Ray Suarez talked earlier today with the head of that agency.

RAY SUAREZ: Director General ElBaradei, welcome back to the program.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Thank you very much, Ray, for having me.

RAY SUAREZ: As of today, what are you asking the North Koreans to do?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, Ray, what we are asking North Korea to do today is come into full compliance with their nonproliferation obligations, and specifically allow us to go back to North Korea, allow our inspectors to be back to oversee the nuclear facilities in North Korea, allow us to clarify the undeclared enrichment program, allow us to verify that we have seen all the plutonium they have produced; so, in sum, come clean insofar as their nonproliferation obligation, make us confident that they have declared all the nuclear materials they have and they are using it for peaceful purposes.

The message is clear to them: if they do that, Ray, the international community is ready to cooperate with them. If they continue this policy of defiance, then there is no deal, then nobody is willing to negotiate with them under duress or under nuclear brinksmanship.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what happens if they either ignore you or outright refuse, does the IAEA have any enforcement power?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, the enforcement power lies with the Security Council. I think under our charter if North Korea or any other country were to be judged in noncompliance with its nonproliferation obligation, then we are bound to report to the Security Council and then the whole question goes to the Security Council, and it is then up to the Security Council to decide what would be the next step.

Our role, Ray, is an early warning; our role is to verify that countries are living up to the nonproliferation obligation. If we find a case of noncompliance, we raise the red flag, we make an early warning, and we report the matter to the Security Council. We do not have an enforcement measure ourselves, but we rely on the Security Council.

RAY SUAREZ: Does today’s communication to the North Korean government include any time frame for compliance?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, the resolution asks me to report back to them, to the board of governors, our executive body, as a matter of urgency. So I have transmitted the decision to North Korea. I expect them to report back to me or to respond in a matter of days, or weeks at the most. If they do not, then I’ll have to go back to the board of governors, and the board then will report the issue to the Security Council. So it’s a fairly urgent situation. I think North Korea understands the urgency of the situation, and it’s a question of weeks and not months.

RAY SUAREZ: North Korea has been kind of open in public about some of the things, some of the moves that it’s made in the past couple of weeks. What is the nature and extent of the things that they’re doing that violate current agreement?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, they are under the current agreement, Ray, supposed to have our inspection on the ground, supposed to have our cameras and seals attached to their nuclear facilities for us to make sure that all their activities are devoted to peaceful purposes. They threw out our inspectors; they removed our cameras; they removed our seals and therefore they are running their nuclear activities completely without any international oversight, and that is a basic noncompliance with their nonproliferation obligation.

They also said that they are going to start the reprocessing plant, which will produce plutonium. If they do that without international oversight, that’s not only a matter of violating their international obligations, but it’s a matter of at least concern, because plutonium can be used directly to manufacture nuclear weapons.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, these agreements were put in force back in 1993 and ’94. Until now, how were the North Koreans doing? Were they in compliance until very recently?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Until very recently, they were in compliance in part, Ray. They were in compliance in the sense that they allowed us to verify that all the nuclear facilities are not operating. We were verifying what was called the freeze of their nuclear activities. That was part of the agreed framework between the North Koreans and the U.N.’s 1994 framework agreement.

So they were in part in compliance with their obligations, however, we were not allowed until all throughout this year to verify how much plutonium they produced in the past. They were supposed to come into compliance with that part of their obligation when they received a major part of the reactor that they were promised under the agreed framework. So they were in partial compliance, I would say. Now they are in total noncompliance.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, for its part, the government in North Korea says that it has security concerns, that it’s been threatened by outside powers, and that during these years other parties have not met their obligations under the treaty so they felt free to breach because they needed to, for instance, generate their own power. How do you answer North Korea’s concerns in these matters?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, I answer North Korean concern by saying that you may have concern, security concern, economic concern, allegations or claims that others have not lived up to their responsibilities or their obligations, but the resolution to that is not through throwing the towel, by complete defiance. By trying to engage the other parties in a dialogue, try to respect your part of the deal, and try to talk to the others and make sure that you will also respect the part of the deal. A policy of escalation, a policy of nuclear brinksmanship, a policy of total defiance will clearly not lead to an agreed solution. It simply polarized the situation, and that’s what’s happening today.

What we need to do is get back the parties to the negotiating tables, get the North Koreans and the US, the Japanese, the South Koreans, and everybody else to the negotiating table. And the first step that needs to be taken is for North Korea to say we are ready to comply with our international obligation, but we also need you to do the same, and not to say we are completely renouncing every obligation, we are completely adopting a policy of defiance. Because nobody, no member of the international community, is willing to negotiate under duress, and that’s what North Korea is doing now – trying to blackmail. And you would understand that no other country is ready to sit and negotiate under these kinds of situations.

So the chance now is to convince North Korea that a policy of compliance and not a policy of defiance is much more conducive to a solution of its perceived problem and that’s what we are trying to work on right now, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: Is North Korea a signatory of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Yes, they are, Ray. They are signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty for over 15 years. They have a safeguard agreement with the agency under the nonproliferation treaty since 1992, and that’s why we are concerned, because they are violating their obligation under the nonproliferation treaty.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, when a state violates, goes into breach, neglects its treaty obligations, does that take off the pressure on other countries in the neighborhood? Is one country processing these fuels, for instance, a destabilizing force in an area that sometimes is home to great tensions?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Yes, of course, I mean, the whole nonproliferation regime is based on mutual confidence that all the neighbors commit themselves not to make nuclear weapons. If one of the neighbors decides to renounce their obligation, decides to go the nuclear weapon route, that really creates a situation of instability in the region.

And that’s why you see all this concern in East Asia, in Northeast Asia. Because of the situation in North Korea, Japan is very much concerned, South Korea is very much concerned, and the solution is not for more countries to try to employ nuclear weapons. The solution is to get North Korea and everybody else to abide – to abide by their international obligation not to develop nuclear weapons. I think security, regional and global, is much more enhanced by an environment where nuclear weapons are not acquired, are not depended on, and not used as a threat to settle international disputes.

RAY SUAREZ: At this stage, what’s the difference between the IAEA’s posture toward Iraq and North Korea, and what’s the difference between the situation on the ground in the two countries?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, I think there is some difference, Ray. In Iraq right now we are on the ground, we are doing an inspection. Iraq is cooperating at least in terms of process, in terms of opening doors to us, in terms of allowing us to do what we want to do. North Korea is completely shutting up its doors. We are not allowed to go back; we do not have any inspection in North Korea.

So the situation – we have one situation of a country cooperating, another of a country in complete defiance; these are two situations which are obviously different. People, however, sometimes ask the question: why are you subjecting Iraq to a strict regime of sanction and not North Korea, and the answer to that, that the situations are quite different in many ways. Iraq has been subject to sanction because of its policy in the past of invading Kuwait, because of its use of chemical weapons against Iran.

In North Korea, with all that policy of defiance, North Korea has not used its force outside its borders, have not used any of its weapons of mass destruction, and, therefore, the international community would like to give North Korea one more chance to come into compliance. But clearly, if it does not comply, if it continues the policy of defiance, I do not see any option but referring the matter to the Security Council and there again the Security Council might decide on more enforcement measures similar to what has happened in the case of Iraq.

RAY SUAREZ: You mentioned that Iraq is from your point of view cooperating with the inspections. President Hussein has basically called your inspectors “spies,” says they’re doing intelligence work for people who are preparing to attack the country. Does that change the nature of what’s going on from the point of view of the IAEA?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: No, it doesn’t, Ray. I think we hear a lot of accusations from different quarters at different times, but for us, our job is clear. It’s to do an impartial, objective, thorough inspection and to be able to report to the Security Council of what we see in terms of Iraq’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons, and in our case we will continue to do our job in a professional and thorough way.

We are used to people accusing us of being biased, of being spies, but we know what we are doing, and we are confident that we are doing our job in a professional and objective way, and that’s how we intend to proceed.

RAY SUAREZ: Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, thanks again for joining us, sir.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Thank you very much, Ray, for having me.