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Mustafa Abdalla Interview
27 July 2004

Transcript of the Director General“s Interview with Al-Ahram News Mustafa Abdalla of Egypt“s Al-Ahram Newspaper

Interviewed Dr. ElBaradei in Vienna

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The following transcript is translated from Arabic:

ABDALLA: Some criticisms were raised on the occasion of the recent visit to Israel by Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA. In my view, some media have portrayed a picture that may be at variance with the truth when they indicated that ElBaradei was sympathetic to the Israeli position. This visit was particularly important because it came within the framework of IAEA efforts, requested from the Director General by the international community, towards the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East and to bring all nuclear installations - including Israeli ones - under the IAEA’s full-scope safeguards regime, so it was natural for Al-Ahram to approach the Director General to discuss with him several nuclear issues of a political nature relating to the region, world peace and security and technical cooperation. The dialogue with him went as follows:

You have made a well-known statement about your vision for a comprehensive and balanced security structure in the Middle East. Can you explain your vision to the reader?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: My point of view is that, if we take the case of the Middle East and consider how conflicts similar to that in the Middle East have been solved in other regions, we will find that the solution of such a conflict is two-fold. First the conclusion of a peace agreement concerning borders, refugees and living conditions.

Secondly, for peace to be lasting, we have to consolidate this process with security measures so that every State has confidence that its security will not be breached in the future. If we consider the specific case of the Middle East, we will find that there are three points that I believe are vital in building such a security structure to facilitate the peace process. Such a structure would create a lasting interest in peace, as we have seen in Europe under the European security and cooperation framework.

In my view, discussion of the security structure may help push forward the peace process because there is a lack of mutual confidence between the parties. We will not be able to build this confidence unless the parties can envisage the region after the peace process and see what measures will be in place to provide them with security. Each State, whether Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Israel, views security measures from its own perspective. There are three basic elements to such a structure.

First, the region should be rid completely of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. Israel must adhere to the regime and legally undertake to submit to the IAEA’s comprehensive safeguards regime... All States of the region should also accede to the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; Israel and a number of Arab States are still not party to that Convention.

All States in the region must also adhere to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Proliferation of Biological Weapons.

Secondly, we must endeavour to limit conventional weapons. Today, millions are being spent on military aircraft and military installations. We should have a regime, like that in Europe, which limits conventional weapons. This is because security is not a matter of conventional or other weapons but, ultimately, whether the States of the region believe that they are secure and can live together in cooperation as, for example, the European Union countries do.

The third element is confidence-building measures in the Middle East region, which has been witnessing massacres and wars since the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. There have to be confidence-building measures, such as early warning measures and information exchange processes, to sustain peace for at least one or two generations. We should learn from the experience of States that have had conflicts, such as France and Germany, and see how they enjoy reciprocal trust now.

These two States were at war for seventy years, but if you ask a German or French person now, he or she is unlikely to remember what caused those wars. This is because they have gradually built up peace and a confidence-building process and have become allies. This is what stays in mind and this is my hope for the Middle East. It is not enough to focus on the declaration of a Palestinian State or on the principle of land for peace. Let us make no mistake, we need security measures to help us establish peace. Once we are sure that peace has been established, we should consolidate it with mutual trust.

ABDALLA: What about your recent visit to Israel?

ELBARADEI: First of all, I should like to point out that there is a lot of confusion about the IAEA’s authority with regard to Israel. The Agency has no inspection authority in Israel, except with regard to a small research reactor. As is the case with India, Pakistan and the five nuclear States, we have no legal authority to perform inspections in Israel. I agree that the Israeli military nuclear programme is a cause of great concern in the Middle East and in the world as a whole. For over thirty years, Israel has been urged to join the nuclear non-proliferation regime. We must understand, however, that the nuclear non-proliferation regime is a voluntary regime. Israel, India and Pakistan have not acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. As Director General and as an international civil servant, my authority with regard to these States is basically moral and political, rather than legal.

IAEA Member States have asked me to visit all the Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, in order to conduct consultations and to discuss how to bring the points of view of the States closer together so as to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East and to apply the safeguards regime to all the nuclear installations in the region, including those in Israel.

I believe that my visit has resulted in some progress on the issue. The topic has not been discussed for over ten years since the failure of the Madrid talks and the multilateral talks on regional security and arms control. This was the first time since then that the subject has been discussed. In my view, it was a good step because what I said in Israel, as an international civil servant and in my personal capacity, to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was that if the present situation whereby Israel is outside the non-proliferation regime continues for the next three or four decades, we should expect a number of Arab States to try and obtain nuclear weapons, as we have seen in Iraq and Libya. I also reminded them that the risk of terrorists getting hold of a nuclear weapon has increased considerably after the attempts that we have seen by the Taliban, Bin Laden and others to get hold of weapons of mass destruction. I said to the Prime Minister of Israel that we have two options in the Middle East. The first is a nuclear arms race in the region for the coming few decades, including - God forbid - the possibility of terrorist groups being able to get hold of a nuclear weapon. Such groups cannot be deterred by any deterrent, nuclear or other.

The second option is to make the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and to make peace the basic deterrent in the region, because security is based on peace and cooperation.

Prime Minister Sharon and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Silvan Shalom, told me that in this context, in the framework of the peace negotiations and the road map, Israel is prepared to discuss the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East region.

As I mentioned, this is the first time that readiness has been expressed on their side, at the level of the Israeli Prime Minister, to consider the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. He [the Prime Minister] has also indicated that this could be achieved in the framework of the peace talks, and the road map. While this is just a small step, it is a step in the right direction because Israel has hitherto held the opinion that this issue can be considered only after peace has been achieved, not during the peace process.

He said that they are prepared to discuss the matter in the framework of the road map. This may be encountering difficulties now, but - as I said - progress is slow. The third and last result of the visit, is that they have agreed to the convening of a forum within the IAEA to discuss the lessons learned from the experience of weapon-free zones established in other regions of the world, and how they can be applied to the establishment of a weapon-free zone in the Middle East. This is the first time that Israel has deigned to mention a weapon-free zone in the Middle East and agreed to sit down together with the other parties concerned to discuss this matter.

ABDALLA: As an international expert with a high degree of intelligence, do you feel that the Israeli leaders are credible?

ELBARADEI: It is not up to me to judge the degree of credibility of the leaders of Israel or of any other State. I judge the results which can be obtained. The coming days will show whether they have been sincere in this regard. However, Israel is beginning to realize that its being the only nuclear State in the Middle East cannot be everlasting, especially in the light of the developments of the last two years with respect to the proliferation of nuclear technology as we have seen in Libya and Iran. In particular, there is very grave concern regarding the phenomenon of nuclear terrorism and the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorist groups. They are giving the matter reconsideration. However, this does not mean that they are going to abandon the nuclear deterrent tomorrow. I would like to be frank in this respect, but in my view they are willing to discuss the matter in the framework of peace. What must be done now is to start negotiations today rather than tomorrow — not between me and Israel, but among Israel, the Arab States and the Middle Eastern States.

ABDALLA: Can you comment on the reports by some news media about your being sympathetic to Israel?

ELBARADEI: Unfortunately there has been a lot of distortion regarding what I said in Israel. There are unfortunately people who write before they read and before they understand. They have not read nor understood fully what I said; hence their hasty emotional reaction. These are complex security issues, which cannot be treated emotionally. Of course I do not sympathize with any State which is outside the non-proliferation regime - not just India, Pakistan and Israel. I recall mentioning in a lecture in Washington about three weeks ago that the five nuclear-weapon States must abandon their nuclear weapons. To say that I sympathize with any State based on nuclear weapon possession is sheer distortion of what I have said.

ABDALLA: How do you explain the fact that you did not visit the Dimona reactor?

ELBARADEI: The problem is not the Dimona reactor, but that Israel is outside the nuclear non-proliferation regime. The Dimona reactor, as we read, has been extracting plutonium for Israeli security needs since the mid-sixties. I cannot visit it because I have no powers to do so; nor can I visit a reactor in the United States or Pakistan or India. The regime was not established by the IAEA. We are implementing a regime which was established by the international community. If the IAEA were given the powers to visit Dimona or other reactors in Israel, I would be happy to do so, as I would do in other States, but I cannot do so because that is not within my powers. The regime is built on legal rules and commitments, and I have no powers in this regard.

ABDALLA: As an Arab citizen you, like all Arabs, perhaps wish that President Mubarak´s initiative to free the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction could be realized. When will that day come?

ELBARADEI: Freeing the Middle East region of weapons of mass destruction is a dream which the Arab States and the international community have been trying to realize for many years. I cannot say that this can be realized tomorrow, since it is entirely dependent upon the peace process in the region. When we speak about nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons, we speak about the security of each State as it views it from its own logical premise. As I said, there is no obligation for any State to adhere to any of these regimes.

An example in this respect is the Chemical Weapons Convention. There are still many Arab States outside this Convention, and we cannot force them to join it because their standpoint is that their security still requires them to keep this option. In my view, all the States in the region should sit down together after each State has defined its security concept and agree on a security regime based on the prohibition of all weapons of mass destruction in the region, including nuclear weapons; agree on the adherence of Israel to this regime; agree on the prohibition of chemical and biological weapons; agree on the limitation of conventional weapons, on which we spend billions of dollars, and which then turn into scrap. All this in an endeavour to have in place a confidence-building regime in this region, which has undergone wars and lack of trust for more than five decades.

The peace should be accompanied by a peace-supporting security system. The peace logic in our region was, in my view, wrong because we focused only on land for peace and a solution of the Palestinian problem on that basis. However that should be associated with a security system. We should have dealt with the question of the Israeli nuclear programme when the Camp David agreement, the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement and the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement were discussed.

That was an opportunity lost, in my opinion. However, I must draw the international community´s attention to the fact that there are opportunities now, and we must not miss them. We have to speak about our vision of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction together with the road map and confidence-building measures, and building a society based on development and prosperity after so many years of war and destruction. That is a dream which we must seek to realize today and tomorrow.

ABDALLA: Turning to the IAEA´s standpoint vis-à-vis Iraq, what can you say about that?

ELBARADEI: Regarding the IAEA´s position in Iraq, everybody should have seen that the IAEA has been working in a professional and objective way. Before the war, we reiterated again and again that we had no evidence that Iraq had rebuilt its military nuclear programme. Many said that Iraq had a military nuclear programme. That was not true. Iraq had a programme which had been neutralized by the IAEA in 1998.

We did not see before the war that Iraq had rebuilt that programme, and the war proved that the IAEA´s conclusion had been correct, confirming the IAEA´s credibility. The situation now is such that I demand our return to Iraq. I heard some queries as to why we should return to Iraq now. This is due to a misunderstanding. We are returning to Iraq to take the place of the inspection teams of the occupation troops; they are still working in Iraq and are part of the coalition forces. We still have the mandate from the Security Council, and it is in the interest of the international community and Iraq that the United Nations team return and carry out the inspections and not the teams which are part of the occupation forces. Iraq is still under economic sanctions. Many of those who raise such questions may not know this fact and may not know that Iraq has up to now not been fully able to carry out its activities in the areas of peaceful uses. This is because it is still subject to the Security Council resolutions, and will be until we return to Iraq and prove that it has become free of weapons of mass destruction and can carry out its activities in those areas to the full.

ABDALLA: In the light of the fact that you have not reached definite results concerning Iran´s nuclear programme, does that mean that the file will be referred to the Security Council?

ELBARADEI: We hope to reach results concerning the Iranian programme in a few months´ time. This depends on Iran´s cooperation. We hope to have the required transparency from Iran. The Security Council procedure is a matter for the members of the IAEA Board of Governors.

However, referring matters to the Security Council is not always the most successful solution; unless, for example, we find that Iran has a military programme, in which case the States will then have to refer the matter to the Security Council in order for repressive action to be taken against Iran.

The Security Council is not the ideal solution under all circumstances. When we took the North Korean file to the Security Council, the latter did not take any action on it, and North Korea made its declaration of withdrawal from the NPT. What I am saying is that we must solve the Iranian issue through diplomatic channels and by means of inspections and not by turning to the Security Council. That should be the last resort if, in the end, a solution is not found. Coercive and repressive measures do not provide a long-term solution. Such a solution must be achieved on the basis of talks among the parties concerned, which should reach an agreement accommodating all of them.