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One on One
September 17, 2004

Secretary General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed El Baradei

Secretary General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed El Baradei, right, briefs the media after a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors, on Friday, June 18, 2004, at Vienna's International Center. The IAEA rebuked Iran for past cover-ups in its nuclear program and warned the Islamic republic it has little time left to disprove it has a nuclear weapons program. (AP Photo/Rudi Blaha)
Iran and Nuclear Weapons with Rob Pollock

Paul Gigot speaks with Robert Pollock, a senior editorial page writer who writes regularly on national security issues for the JOURNAL.
GIGOT: The security issue other than Iraq and terrorism that started to get some much-needed attention this week, was the increasing evidence that North Korea and Iran are getting closer to having nuclear weapons. It was reported that the president has been given evidence of new activity at a potential nuclear site in North Korea. And ABC World News Tonight obtained exclusive satellite photos of an Iranian military site where, experts said, nuclear weapons could be made and tested.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has asked for permission to visit the site, but Iran has not responded. Rob, how serious is this threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of rogue regimes, and particularly Iran?

POLLOCK: Well, it's a very serious threat. The consensus in the intelligence community right now is that North Korea already has at least a couple of devices. And as far as Iran goes, I think the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, John Bolton, has put it best. He said, there's no explanation for a 20-year covert nuclear program except weapons. Much of what Iran has been doing, they would be allowed to do out in the open. But they've been lying to the international community.

GIGOT: Haven't the rulers in Tehran basically said, look, we are of a stature that should allow us to become a nuclear state, whether you like it or not. Haven't they been that blunt about it?

POLLOCK: No, that's exactly what they're saying. And that's kind of the crazy thing. They're saying, we want to be recognized as a perfectly normal nuclear nation with the right to control our own fuel cycle. Well, they're not a normal nation. Every year they top the State Department's list of terror-sponsoring countries.

GIGOT: All right, so what is the world community doing about this? They seem to be -- and Vice President Cheney said when he came to visit us not long ago -- on a diplomatic track. Is that working?

POLLOCK: The diplomatic track is working insofar as the U.N. does have inspectors in Iran, and they are learning things about the program. But one of the things they keep learning is that the Iranians keep lying to us. And even given a chance to come clean. And we learned, first of all, that they had an enrichment program we didn't know about. Then we learned they had another enrichment program we didn't know about, a sophisticated program involving so-called P2 Centrifuges, which were sold by the Pakistani scientist Abdur Qadeer Kahn. So that's a very serious program.

GIGOT: Sounds like if the diplomatic track fails, the potential use of force is there for whoever is president in the next four years. Is that right?

POLLOCK: I think certainly the threat of force has to be there. I think it's pretty obvious the mullahs are betting the survival of their regime on a crash program to build a nuclear bomb. They know that the North Koreans are pretty much untouchable at this point, or at least that's what they perceive. And they want the same for themselves, knowing that they're unpopular with their own people and they could be easily toppled by a modicum of outside pressure.

GIGOT: Quickly, Rob -- has John Kerry been able to get any traction with this politically against the president?

POLLOCK: It's not clear that he has. And that's unfortunate for Mr. Kerry, because as we've pointed out in editorials, he had an opportunity here to go after President Bush from the right. But instead, he's decided to suggest that the problem here is that the United States hasn't been accommodating enough, and he wants us to do a deal with the mullahs, whereby we would supply them with nuclear fuel and then take it back so they can't make it into bombs. Well, should we trust them after what we've been through for the past few years? That's not clear.

GIGOT: It's sort of an arms control agreement.

POLLOCK: That's right.

GIGOT: Thanks, Rob.