Council on Foreign Relations
New York, N.Y.
GRAHAM ALLISON: Let me get us to begin, if we can. I’m Graham Allison, and I will serve as the— I think what the Council rules say, the interrogator here, and introducer to begin with, and then we’re going to have a general conversation. Unlike most Council meetings, the rules of this meeting are that it is on the record. Let me remind you to turn your cell phones off now— cell phones that go off will be appropriated. We’re very, very fortunate that we have the guest with us whom we have today, a person who I think, of all the people shouldering heavy responsibilities on the international stage today, has among the most difficult but most important responsibilities.
You have in your packet Mohamed ElBaradei’s bio. Let me just remind you that he’s been, for more than 20 years, a senior official at the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], and since 1997, the director of that agency. He’s an Egyptian who was educated first in Cairo, but has a doctorate of international law from NYU [New York University]. And while he began his career in the foreign ministry in Egypt, he’s emerged over the last quarter century as one of the great international civil servants, working particularly at IAEA on difficult topics, and I think a great example for us of someone who is not just an international bureaucrat, if you were going to put it in those terms, but an international thinker thinking hard about the most difficult challenges. So we’re very, very lucky to have Mohamed here with us today.
Amidst the clamor of issues discussed here at the Council on Foreign Relations or the crowded front pages of newspapers today, if you said, what is the single most significant or gravest threat to Americans’ lives and liberties— if we just put it in very narrow local terms, maybe even New Yorkers, if people have trouble getting outside the island here— I would say that the person who actually directs the agency, which among all international agencies has the greatest responsibility for dealing with the problem of a nuclear 9/11, is Mohamed ElBaradei and the IAEA.
New Yorkers, I think, in particular, are conscious after 9/11 that in the months ahead al Qaeda has been challenged by Osama bin Laden to exceed what was done on 9/11. They’ve seen in [the March 11 train bombings in] Madrid that terrorist attacks can affect elections. FBI Director [Robert] Mueller has pointed out that he expects that they will make a significant attempt through some form of terrorist attack to affect our elections. And we have [an] upcoming Democratic National Convention in Boston, so I’m very interested in that, and a Republican National Convention here in New York. So there are plenty— and the [2004 Summer] Olympics in between— of opportunities.
If we try to think about such events and the wherewithal for such attacks, if it were to be a nuclear terrorist attack it requires a nuclear weapon, which requires either highly enriched uranium or plutonium. So those are the nuclear materials from which a weapon could be made. And the agency internationally that attempts to track, at least, where this material is or where potential weapons are and how it might find its way into the hands of the bad guys, is the IAEA. So let me start, Mohamed, with the question: If you try to think about this, first, how, if it all, did 9/11 affect the thinking and actions at the IAEA? And to put a sharper point on it, if, God forbid, there should be a nuclear terrorist attack, where would the weapons or materials most likely have come from?
MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Well, Graham, let me first thank you for the opportunity, [Council on Foreign Relations President] Richard Haass and my friends here at the Council. It’s really an excellent opportunity for us to share, you know, some of our concerns, but more importantly how to go about it and how to provide solutions.
After 9/11 I think we have come to realize the danger of the world we live in, in terms of weapons of mass destruction, primarily nuclear weapons. We have realized that the technology is spreading around and that has been vindicated in the last few months in a very graphic way. We have realized that our security [and] global security systems are really in a crisis. We have realized that the system, what we call the nonproliferation regime, which we built in 1970, is eroding in terms of legitimacy.
We have realized that there’s a new group of people— the so-called extremist terrorists, whatever you call them— who would like to get their hands on some of these materials. We have realized that a lot of these materials are not really adequately protected. Lots of it, after the end of the Cold War and the former Soviet Union and the [inaudible], there’s a lot of nuclear material— highly enriched uranium, plutonium that is still not adequately protected. There are a lot of people who would like to get their hands on it. There are a lot of countries who feel quite insecure and would like to think that deterrence would come through acquisition of nuclear weapons.
So we are, in my view, going through a completely different ball game, and the rules have to completely change. Have we done that? I’m not sure we did. I think we started to think about it. But the quicker we think about it, the more drastic the solution, or the more we think outside the box, the better for us. You talk about the island here, my island is the world front, and, you know, any action [or] any use of nuclear material anywhere will impact all of us, without exception. Where the first attack— God forbid— will happen is a million dollar question. You know, lots of parts of the world are vulnerable. So I’m not trying to scare anybody by saying here is the area most vulnerable, and sometimes people go after an area which we do not think is somewhat vulnerable.
ALLISON: But Mohamed, let me push you a little bit on the question of the threat to the whole national security order or regime, which you’ve been courageous in speaking out about. And you had a New York Times editorial in which you said, among other things, [that] nuclear proliferation is on the rise. If we sit by, this trend will continue. Eventually terrorists will get nuclear weapons. Quote, “If the world does not change course, we risk self-destruction.” So, say a little bit in more specifics about how you see the nonproliferation order collapsing or exploding, if we just, quote, “sit idly by.”
ELBARADEI: I hope it won’t.
ALLISON: But if it were to, what are the trends that you see that would undermine or cause it to collapse?
ELBARADEI: The problem— I start with the big picture— the big picture [is] that we have a collective security system embedded in the United Nations charter, which is on-again, off-again work, you know. [Pakistani Ambassador to the United Nations] Munir Akram is the president of the Security Council here, Jim Cunningham [deputy permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations], they are old hands. I mean [the] Security Council, frankly, has been working on some situations, not on others. You know, when we see [the 1994 genocide in] Rwanda, where 800,000 people died and we were wringing our hands; when it took us a couple of months to send 1,500 people to [monitor the cease-fire between the government and rebel forces in the] Ivory Coast [in 2003]; the whole episode pre-Iraq. I mean, the system has not, in my view, been adjusted to deal with the post-Cold War situation. We have talked a lot about new world order. That has not materialized in any way.
We have certain areas where we need to think outside the box. Can the Security Council wait if there is a threat to use weapon of mass destruction, for example? Can you wait for an actual attack or can the Security Council take pre-emptive action, collective pre-emptive action? Can the Security Council intervene in the case of a massive violation of human rights, [such as] the Rwanda type? We haven’t really done any of that work.
We have still continued— and again, I’m being very frank— continued to grapple about how many members of the Security Council— is it 15, is it 17, which one? These are, you know, important issues. The council should be more representative. But more important, can the council provide the inclusive system of security whereby everybody can live comfortably, feel that their security is protected?
When we talk about nonproliferation, we really talk about insecurity. I mean, why [do] countries try to develop nuclear weapons? Why [do] we see the Middle East to be the most proliferation-prone area of developing nuclear weapons? Why don’t we see that in the Nordic countries? You know, it’s the security, stupid— [laughter]--a paraphrase of [former U.S. President] Bill Clinton. It really is a question of security. Unless we link nonproliferation to security, I think we will continue to, you know, to go around in circles.
You know, one of the problems I see recently— and I mentioned that, Graham— is the erosion of the legitimacy of the regime, you see; the perception that there is a double standard, that there are some who have, somebody said, continued to dangle a cigarette from their mouth and tell everybody else not to smoke. You know. That, in the long run, is difficult to sustain, is not sustainable.
Unless the weapon states— and I’m talking really about eight, you cannot just talk about five. There are five plus three. We cannot continue to say India, Pakistan, and Israel do not exist. They are there. They are de facto weapon states. And we have to deal with the reality. Unless they send a strong message that they are really committed to move to a nuclear disarmament— that they are not going to depend for their security— eventually, not overnight— on nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons will continue to be very attractive for others, you know, as a sense of deterrent, as a sense of power, as a sense of prestige. Until you continue to have some of the disputes— like the Middle East, festering for years— until you see some solution to what is perceived to be imbalance in the security within the Middle East by Israel having a nuclear capability and all the Arabs are not— sitting under the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], unless you deal with the sense of insecurity, you will continue to have this effort. We are— we act like [a] fire brigade. We acted to try to put [out] the fire, you know, in Iraq and North Korea, but that’s not the solution. The solution is building a new system of collective security that is not based on reliance on nuclear weapons. That’s a lot. It’s a tall order, but we really need to start. That’s a long-haul flight, if you like.
In the short run, there’s a lot we need to do, you know. The Export Control Regimes [that control exports of items that have civilian and military uses]--we have realized that these are completely busted right now. There’s a lot of countries who are able to export who are not part of the regime— India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Israel. You cannot just pretend they do not exist. We need to have everybody as part of the Export Control Regime.
We need— the agency, the IAEA— needs the legal authority. We cannot, you know, force our way into countries. We need a legal authority. You know, we are an organization based on the rule of law. And so we need the authority. In many cases, we don’t have that authority.
We tried after [the Gulf War in] Iraq [in] 1991 to develop the additional protocol [to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], which gives us access to information, access to locations. But after, you know, five years after its adoption, or seven years, actually, after its adoption, we still have over a hundred countries who have not subscribed [to] that regime.
We still have the possibility that any country goes in and out of the NPT. North Korea has decided to walk out of the NPT. The Security Council did not even respond by a statement saying, “We are concerned.” If a country is walking out of the NPT, what they are saying is, “We are getting out of the system to exercise our option to develop nuclear weapons.” If that is not [a] threat to international peace and security, what is?
So these are questions, then, of compliance, and that’s when I said there’s not only a question of legitimacy, there’s not only a question of the technology out of the tube, but there is a question of compliance, that— the feeling that you can get away with murder, if you like, and that the international community will not respond or would respond selectively.
So you need to work on these issues: the export control, additional authority of the agency, the role of the Security Council, the feeling that this system is there to stay, and nonproliferation. Ideally, I’d like to see the nonproliferation regime treated the way as we treat genocide, you know, that whether you are in or out of the treaty, you are banned from developing weapons— nuclear weapons or weapon of mass destruction. We are far away from that. And so these are some of the issues we need to think about it. And as I said, the earlier we think about it, the earlier we act on it.
I have been saying for a while, you know, let us have a package of proposals, one which we agree on, and then in my view let us have an additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That would be ultimately my goal and this is nothing new. There’s a lot of other treaty, you know, which have been supplemented based on experience.
I had, you know, a month ago, a very good meeting with President [George W.] Bush. And the Bush administration is thinking about a lot of these issues. There’s, I think, a confluence of opinion existing, but a lot of people have been talking. But the important thing is for us now to get a forum where these issues are discussed and where we can develop a consensus and move forward.
ALLISON: Well, I think that you’ve just [given] us a tour of this horizon. The idea that, in a job with your everyday responsibilities, you’re thinking as broadly about this I think is a reflection of your academic interests as well as your current responsibilities. And we could bore down on each one of these components, but let me take a couple of pieces just for short questions and answers.
If you think about the responsibility of the eight nuclear weapons states and the role of nuclear weapons in security, obviously the U.S. and Russia are the two giants in this picture. The number of weapons in each inventory and the role of weapons have actually declined significantly since the Cold War. I, myself, personally would subscribe— and do subscribe— to the proposition that Americans would be better off if nuclear weapons were shoved way back out of the postures of the U.S., back into the deep closets in effect, so not playing any active role in security, and I can imagine that part of it. I can’t quite see how I get there for India and Pakistan or for some of the other parties.
So have you thought, operationally, what would it mean for these states to push nuclear weapons out of the security equation sufficiently to accomplish what you want to do, which is to deal with the legitimacy issue as it relates to other states getting nuclear weapons?
ELBARADEI: Graham, this is a long— [inaudible]--it’s a long haul? We need to have a clear road map with certain milestones. I fully agree with you, we need to start with the U.S and Russia. I mean, these are the ones with over 20,000, I think, warheads. We need to see that they continue to send the right signals that they are moving away from nuclear weapons.
The fact that we don’t have a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, for example, is bad news. The fact that we have been trying to develop a treaty to ban production of fissile materials, and for eight years they could not even agree on a mandate to start negotiations, is bad news. You need to send the message that, yes, we are committed to move toward nuclear disarmament. I think once you start doing that, then you will get the other weapon states. I talked about this additional protocol to the NPT. I mean, to me, you know, part of that was a road map for nuclear disarmament, again, restoring the balance between the haves and the have-nots.
ALLISON: Mohamed, most people probably are not IAEA techies here, and so the additional protocol will seem a little obscure. The additional protocol in simple terms, I would say, allows the IAEA inspectors to inspect facilities wherever they find them in a country, on demand. Is that a close enough?
ELBARADEI: Yes. I mean, I think that this is a package of measures which have been granted to us after Iraq 1991, when we discovered that Iraq developed [a] clandestine, nuclear program, completely undeclared. And that protocol simply gives us the additional authority to ask for more information to get additional access.
But what I’m talking [about] here, Graham, not the additional protocol, but certain measures which we need to strengthen the nonproliferation regime. It should have, as a built-in component, a commitment to a nuclear disarmament, I mean, restoring again the commitment of the 1970s. So that’s where also you can get India, Pakistan, and Israel into the scene, because you have to get everybody. You have to send a powerful message. We need to do better in terms of protecting ourselves, and we cannot just continue to say, well, we have 25 countries, say, the NATO countries, who are relying on the nuclear umbrella, and everyone else should sit quietly in the cold, you know. That, as I said, in the long run, is not sustainable. And there is some problem about the moral foundation of a regime based on this type of equality, you know.
And that’s— I’ve been recently to the Middle East, a couple of weeks ago. And I was, frankly, struck by the amount of cynicism, the amount of— the feeling that there is a double standard. And Richard has been going there all the time. I mean, I tried to explain, you know, this is the regime, this is the legal clauses, you know. But there is a difference between— again, I speak as a lawyer— legality and legitimacy, you see. And my fear is that the regime now is losing somewhat on its legitimacy and that’s very dangerous, and that’s where we need to work to restore that sense of legitimacy, since we are on the right track and we need to correct course.
ALLISON: Well, the American posture currently says we need to develop a few more additional nuclear weapons, but everyone else needs zero, [which] makes your job slightly more difficult. I remember in government trying to explain that position without smiling, and I could never manage to do it. Let me get you to step back just for a second, because I have been looking at faces here, and tell us just a word about— I mean, your— what’s nice and I think great about you in this job is that you try to think about the whole problem, and the whole problem has got so many different dimensions. The IAEA, for most people, is probably some words that they’ve heard, but they don’t quite know what it is or what it does or how big it is or so forth. Give us just a capsule version of the IAEA’s role in this activity, particularly as it relates to proliferation of nuclear weapons.
ELBARADEI: Well, IAEA is [former U.S. President Dwight] Eisenhower’s vision. IAEA is the discovery after [atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of] Hiroshima and Nagasaki [in 1945] that nuclear power could be a very powerful tool for economic and social development: electricity generation, radiotherapy at hospitals, improving production in agriculture. And you know, the negative side, that it could be a destructive force. And the agency was established in 1957, basically to deal with these two aspects: to be the caring mother, to provide assistance to developing countries in— helping them with their nuclear medicine, the radiotherapy machines, and improving agriculture, but also to make sure that, as they’re doing that, they are doing it exclusively for peaceful purposes.
So it really is this dual role, you know, [to] regulate the peaceful use of nuclear energy [and], at the same time, make sure that technology, like any other technology— like the pharmaceutical or like the chemical technology— is used exclusively for peaceful purpose. We have been very successful on one, on the peaceful use, but we had lots of hiccups recently on the question of the non-peaceful use, you know.
ALLISON: But if we go back— just to try to put a little context in this, in 1962, [former U.S. President] John Kennedy said that, on current trends, by 1975 there would be 25 nuclear weapons states. Now it turns out there’s about eight and a fraction. So why did this not happen?
ELBARADEI: Eight and three-quarters, probably. [Laughter.]
ALLISON: [Laughter.] Oh my God. OK, eight and three-quarters. Kennedy’s estimate wasn’t exaggerated— it was just the presumption that as states [obtained the] technical capability to make nuclear weapons, they would do so. Well, the world got alarmed [and] created the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The IAEA got some additional powers in that context. So I would say, relatively, this is a success story. There are 184 countries that have signed up to be non-nuclear weapon states. That’s pretty impressive if you take [into account] the international picture.
But your proposition that if we just keep doing what we’re doing, this is going to collapse, I think is provocative. So tell us specifically, what is it that if we just keep [doing]--what’s [it] going to mean [to] collapse? Collapse is [when] North Korea declares itself a nuclear weapon state? Iran succeeds in its enrichment? Give me the processes for [and] alternative processes for collapse.
ELBARADEI: Graham, I don’t really like to use the word collapse. I mean, I’m not a messenger of doom. But I’d like to say that there is an erosion of the system. The system worked well, very nicely, as you said, until five, 10 years ago, until the end of the Cold War. You were right when you said many countries had the technical capability to develop weapons, and they have not developed weapons. I mean, if you look to many of the industrialized countries— Germany, Japan, Sweden— and they all could have done— Canada— and many of them have experimented at some point or another with nuclear weapons program. They have come to the conclusion they do not need nuclear weapons [and] that their security is better served without having nuclear weapons.
During the Cold War, you have the two big brothers. Each one took care of their own clients, you know, and people felt a sense of security. That has changed after the end of the Cold War, and we’ve gotten lots of new factors of insecurity. You’ve got, of course, 9/11. You’ve got the whole question of countries— the North Korean situation, the talks possibly about pre-emption. I mean, there’s an emergence of a great sense of insecurity in many parts of the world. And what I am saying that you’ve got now the technology, as we have seen, has become well spread. So it’s the technology alone— controlling technology alone is not the most formidable barrier right now because technology is spreading. I think we need to think beyond just controlling the technology. I mean, again, the assumption in the past was, if you control the technology, you control the spread of nuclear weapons. That’s no longer. I think you need to look, even if the technology is there, how could I— what could I do to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons? And that brings me, again, to security, [the] collective security system, you know, balance of interest [and] balance of power. What’s my fear? [My fear is] that right now, under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, any country has that so-called inalienable right to develop enrichment, to develop reprocessing, basically to have highly enriched uranium or to have plutonium. Well, that is a right for every country.
We have seen the whole controversy now about Iran developing highly enriched uranium or possibility for the know-how. And the question is, can we continue? Can we afford that every country will develop its own factory, having highly enriched uranium or having plutonium, knowing that this is 90 percent of the capability to have nuclear weapons, knowing that within a month you can convert your material into weapons, should you decide to do so?
That’s one of the issues also I have been raising [and] President Bush has been raising. We need to put a cap on the countries that— on the right for countries to develop plutonium and highly enriched uranium. We don’t need it for the civilian sector. But that obviously requires guaranteeing to all other countries that they will have the nuclear fuels they will need for the civilian program, and it requires also, you know, a sense that it is not again us versus them. It is not the early bird who has the worm.
You see, the system so far has been based, in my view, on three faulty assumptions: A, we have gotten the stuff earlier so we can keep it; B, that you are in the system and therefore you are locked in; and C, that we are outside the system and we are free. These are not sustainable assumptions to develop a regime that we would like to keep permanently, because our very survival depends on that regime.
ALLISON: Well, I think one of the things you’ve been most outspoken on, and correctly, is that the current treaty regime, as it’s written, basically has this big fatal loophole through which you can drive a nuclear weapons program, if that’s your intent, by building the infrastructure of the nuclear weapons program— namely factories for producing uranium or plutonium— and then you’re essentially there. There’s just a little step to go. And I think by focusing people’s attention on that fact, and specifically the case of Iran today, where they’re driving right through that hole as actively as they can and you’re trying to help raise concerns about it. So your proposition for closing that loophole would be you want to change the treaty, or you want to just change the interpretation?
ELBARADEI: I think I want to supplement the treaty. I do not want to change the treaty. The treaty is there, the treaty is fine. I want to add to it. I want to say there are some clauses in the treaty that do not serve us well right now. There are some clauses in the treaty that are missing. And let us sit together, develop a package, agree to that and supplement the treaty with these. One of these supplements will be, if you like, a moratorium or a ban on the right of every country to develop plutonium, highly enriched uranium, because I think from an economic point of view, a security point of view, [and a] political point of view, it’s simply not needed.
ALLISON: I subscribe strongly to that. And actually, I think it requires, as Mohamed has said, a pretty forthcoming response on the part of the nuclear weapon states to provide guaranteed supplies of fuel, and to do so at prices that are considerably cheaper than what could be done in national production terms. In the Iranian case today, you’re going to have the meeting with your board [of governors, the policymaking body of the IAEA] in June; the Iranians say they want a clean bill of health. What’s the chance of that?
ELBARADEI: Before that, Graham, I should just mention that in the next couple of months I’m establishing a group of experts to look into how we can develop a better system of security with regard to enrichment and reprocessing. I put the idea of multinationalization, that at least if we do not have a ban right now, let us have these facilities under multinational control. And there is some good precedent in that. There is the Urenco Corporation [that enriches uranium to fuel nuclear power plants], which is owned, managed by the British, the Germans, and the Dutch. So there is an oversight to make sure that countries would not have exclusive responsibility over such highly dangerous material.
I come to Iran— again, your answer— with Iran we are going through the work. It has been a difficult process. You know, sometimes in the past cooperation was not very well. We now are getting better cooperation. But we still have work to do. We will, you know, close the file when we have done with all the issues that require to be investigated. So it’s really a technical issue, it’s not a political issue as to how and when. It will come to an end when it comes to an end, when I can— I am satisfied, based on the technical advice I get, that yes, now we can bring that issue to closure; that yes, we can say that Iran program is dedicated exclusively for peaceful purposes. And we are not there yet.
ALLISON: OK. Let me go to the audience here. The rules are raise your hand [and] I will recognize you. Identify yourself. And we have only one speaker, but short questions would be appreciated. This lady, please.
QUESTIONER: My name is—
ALLISON: Excuse me. We’ll get you a microphone so everybody can hear.
QUESTIONER: Thanks. My name is Alice La Brie and I’m former U.S. Department of State Foreign Service [in] Turkey, Oman, Sweden, and [the] U.S. Mission U.N. in Protocol under [Ambassador] Richard Holbrooke. And I would just like to say, from this perspective of a citizen taxpayer, I want my country to be able to develop the most horrific weapons known to man to keep people away from my borders, and bullies, and so forth. I mean, I think North Korea would be foolish to give up their nuclear in the face of what’s happening today. So I think it’s a bit unrealistic, what we’re talking about here. And anyway, haven’t we moved past nuclear to more horrific weapons?
ELBARADEI: What you are saying, that everybody should have horrific weapons? I think that’s what I understand.
QUESTIONER: I want them.
ELBARADEI: Yeah, you want them. But North Korea wants them and people in Timbuktu want them. The question is, are you more secure with everybody having the most horrific weapons? Take into account also the concept of nuclear deterrence, which was used in the past— massive assured destruction in case you are attacked, is no longer valid in the case of terrorists. If a group of terrorists develop their own weapon now, no matter how many horrific weapons you have here in your arsenal, it will not protect you. So we need to think [of] a better system of security, in my view, that does not rely on these horrific weapons because the horrific weapons ultimately will not protect either you or any one of us.
ALLISON: And on the second question of what’s the most destructive, it’s nuclear weapons. Judy Miller, please.
QUESTIONER: Mr. ElBaradei, you said you had a good meeting with the Bush administration. I know that the Bush administration has proposed several of its own initiatives that would appear to be part of the package that you’ve described. Can you outline for us briefly the major differences in the components of such a package that you would see and the direction in which the administration is heading?
ELBARADEI: I’m not sure there are major differences. It’s a question of approach, frankly. I mean, at least on these issues, I think there’s a lot of convergence of views. I mean, we all agree that we need to have this additional authority for the agency universally applied. We all believe that the Export Control Regime should be strengthened— the Bush administration, myself, and many others. How to go about it, for example? I mean, [in] my view, it has to be more inclusive. You have to include more countries. It probably should be treaty-based and not just a gentleman’s agreement, as it is right now. We need to have better sharing of information. So on export control, I think on the additional protocol authority for the agency, there’s an agreement.
[On] the question [about] the sensitive part of the fuel cycle, the Bush administration [is] saying that we have to have a cut-off date where people who do not have it now should not have it [at all]. My feeling there [is] that this might not work because, again, this is based on the NPT right of every country. And what I suggested is possibly a moratorium, you know, voluntary moratorium right now while we work [on] a better system. That’s where I came [up] with the idea of multinational control. So again, it’s not just 10 or 12 countries [that] have it and nobody else can, but maybe multinational control where everybody can benefit, with assurances of supply.
[On] the question on the withdrawal from the NPT, I don’t think that was raised by the Bush administration. I still believe that we need to have some response mechanism by the Security Council in case of a withdrawal. I must say, there are a lot of other ideas coming. I mean, I was in France last week. I met the new French foreign minister [Michel Barnier]. And they came [up] with the idea, for example, that maybe you have to have an agreed system of sanction, agreed [upon] in advance in the case of a country’s withdrawal, so you would know the cost in advance before you decide to withdraw. So there are a lot of ideas floating around on some of these issues.
On the physical protection of nuclear material, I think there’s a full agreement that there’s a lot of highly enriched uranium around the world. I think there are a hundred facilities in 40 countries that still use highly enriched uranium. And I think there was an agreement with President Bush when I met with him that we need to have a cleanup, in fact, [a] plan. Secretary [of Energy] Spencer Abraham is coming, I think this month, to Vienna. They have developed a plan. I think we are going to discuss it together and, hopefully, launch it. The idea would, over the next few years, clean up all the highly enriched uranium that exists in the civilian fuel cycle, which, frankly, is not needed at all. So I think the good news is that there’s a lot of agreement on many of these issues, but the important thing is to get everybody on board and to fine-tune the process and move forward.
ALLISON: Richard [Haass], we were chatting at the table about North Korea and the enforcement problem. Do you want to say a word about that? Yes or no?
RICHARD HAASS: Let Mohamed do it. [Laughter.]
ELBARADEI: I did. Enough, Richard?
ALLISON: I think the problem, as Mohamed raised it, is, in the case of North Korea or anybody else, if they decide to opt out. IAEA said, “Hello? You know, North Korea has left.” They referred it to the Security Council. The Security Council said, “Ho-hum.”
HAASS: I’ll introduce myself. My name is Richard Haass [President, Council on Foreign Relations].
ALLISON: Oh, I’m sorry. [Laughter.]
HAASS: I’m with the Council on Foreign Relations. Yeah, we were talking about North Korea. I may have my back to some people— I apologize. No, the question there is how do you set up an international approach that essentially would provide North Korea with clear choices? And whether it’s done in this group of six— the United States, Russia, South Korea, Japan, and so forth— or through the Security Council, it’s essentially the same countries. How do you either present North Korea with a clear set of positive incentives, what would accrue to them if they were to meet international requirements in terms of not simply pledging to do things, but essentially meet all the inspections that Mr. ElBaradei’s agency would do, or secondly, what would be the price they would pay if they do not? Because clearly, right now, they have not met international requirements in terms of transparency about what it is they have or do not have. And there’s tremendous suspicion about their essentially having both programs. They’ve gone down both paths now: one in clear violation of the  Agreed Framework, another arguably in violation of the spirit— some would say the letter— but certainly the spirit of the Agreed Framework, so they have both a uranium enrichment program and a plutonium program.
And the question is, essentially, how do we get the international community organized enough to present North Korea with a clear choice? Because what we don’t want to have is essentially the situation we seem to have, which is a North Korea that has an uncertain amount of nuclear material, that has a degree of weaponization that, again, we’re not exactly sure of. But obviously this has tremendous consequences, not simply for the regime in general, but for both security in Northeast Asia and then also, potentially, globally, because North Korea now can turn around, as we’ve seen, and become not simply a potential user, but also a potential supplier for other states or conceivably non-state organizations. And we were just talking here over breakfast that essentially this, in some ways, is arguably the largest single challenge to the integrity of the nonproliferation regime that exists.
ALLISON: And so, Mohamed, you referred it to the Security Council, and they didn’t do anything, and [now] its two years later. So what should have been done or what should be done now?
ELBARADEI: Frankly, North Korea is the worst precedent [that has] ever existed, because for 12 years, since 1992, they have been in noncompliance. We haven’t done very much to restore credibility or to get them back into the system. We tried to buy them off. I mean, the international community, frankly, tried to buy them off by offering them two free reactors in the 1994 agreement. But again, that was the carrot. But there also is a stick that if you do not comply, you will be isolated, et cetera. But it didn’t work, for a variety of reasons. Then again, for one thing, the verification under that agreement was very limited. We could not really verify comprehensively what was happening. They made use of the loophole in that agreement. They made use of the loophole of the export control system. They developed a second track of highly enriched uranium production, which we do not know, as Richard is saying, because they are outside of the country.
But what I worry about [with] North Korea [is] that it also sends the worst signals to would-be proliferators: that if you want to protect yourself, accelerate your program, because then you are immune in a way. Then people will sit around the table with you. And if you do not do that fast enough, you might be subject to pre-emption. So it depends. We really need, again, to make sure that that is not the lesson people will learn from North Korea. And therefore, as Richard said, I think [this is] the No. 1 national and international security concern. The way we deal with it, the way the international community responds to North Korea, is very important for the future precedent setting.
ALLISON: OK. This gentleman here, please. Yes.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. My name is Roland Paul with the law firm Ivey Barnum & O’Mara. Welcome back again Mr. ElBaradei to the Council. I saw you the last time. A short question, coming back to Iran. Can we infer from your remarks and other reports that Iran, if it wanted to, could have a nuclear weapon within less than a year?
ELBARADEI: Well, Iran clearly was developing a comprehensive, complete fuel cycle, including the ability to have highly enriched uranium. They have the know-how to enrich uranium, which again, it’s a question of time if you want to enrich from 3 percent to 90 percent. So they have the know-how. They don’t— as to our knowledge, they don’t have the highly enriched uranium. When I talk about one month or two months, you’re talking about a country which already has the highly enriched uranium and the weaponization. And the weapons device also is not to be underestimated. It’s a lot of work. We haven’t seen Iran— we don’t have proof so far that they have done any weaponization, nor have we seen that they have enriched uranium to the military level. But if you ask me whether they have the know-how to develop the highly enriched uranium, the answer is yes. And that in itself, frankly, is a deterrent. You know, again, I think Iran was very conscious that, by developing the know-how, they’re also sending a message that we know how to do it, should we decide to do it. The question is have they done it? That’s what we are looking into right now.
ALLISON: OK. And that know-how can both be a deterrent and it can also be an attractor as a potential target. Harrison, you’re following this up?
ALLISON: Yeah, please.
QUESTIONER: I’m [Harrison] J. Goldin. As a brief follow-up to the previous question, are we to infer from your earlier comment that the Iranian problem is essentially technological, but from the standpoint of your agency there are no access problems as they relate to Iran?
ELBARADEI: I wouldn’t call the Iranian issue a technological— [laughter]--problem. I think it’s a part of the security problem and it’s very much [a] part of the global political problem. I mean, the problem in dealing with [the] Iranian program, we’re also dealing with Iraq, we’re dealing with Afghanistan, we’re dealing with the people of al Qaeda— there’s a lot of linkage there. And each of the parties is, again, linking many of these issues. We have to be aware of that, my agency. But for us, it’s— on the technical issue, you are right. No, we don’t have an access problem right now. I think we are getting all the access we want, which is the good news. But we still need additional information. We still need to do a lot of technical analysis before we come to a conclusion. But I think we are getting the access we are asking for.
ALLISON: Mohamed, just to stay on that for one second, and it goes back to the notion of the IAEA and its functions. If I remember, you had about 10 inspectors? How many inspectors does the IAEA have in Iran doing this job?
ELBARADEI: Well, it depends. And again, it’s not a question of how many people. I mean, again, sometimes people say we need to flood the country with inspectors. I mean, unless you know what you want to do, unless you have the information where you want to go, it’s not a question of numbers, you know. So at different times, we have [the] enrichment expert [and] the processing expert [there]. But more importantly is the information. And I must say we have been getting good information on Iran from many sources, and that has been helping us. And we have made a good headway.
As I said, we were dealing with a very difficult task for almost nine months, when information was not coming, when information was contradictory. And our member states [and] the board of governors have been very vocal on this, in fact, deploring Iran’s pattern of behavior. That has changed since last October. Iran has taken a decision to be transparent. And things have improved a lot. But we still, as I said, we still go through some difficulties. But I think we are in the right direction.
In my view, verification backed by diplomacy has continued to be the best option, frankly. And if you are moving forward [and] if you do not see [an] imminent threat, I think we should stay the course. It sometimes takes time. People get impatient. But this still is the best option, because there is no better alternative to solve this issue rather than continue to put pressure and continue to show— again, as we always do with diplomacy, use the carrot and the stick.
I think, Richard, you know, just before I came here, he said that in some of these situations, the problem is that we do not use either the carrot or the stick— but we need to use both, you know. And how to use it, this is really the—
HAASS: That was not for attribution! [Laughter.]
ELBARADEI: I didn’t say in what context Richard had said—
ALLISON: It was unclear which country this applied to.
ELBARADEI: Yeah, right.
ALLISON: OK. This lady, please.
QUESTIONER: I’m Melanie Kirkpatrick from The Wall Street Journal. What, in your view, is the lesson of the Iraq war that would-be proliferators take away? And I’d be interested particularly in your view on the lesson of Libya. Did the Iraq war have the effect of encouraging Libya to give up its weapons program?
ELBARADEI: Well, I [will] start with the second question. I mean, I really cannot go into the mind of [Libyan leader Colonel Muammar el-] Qaddafi, unfortunately, to know what the reason was. I’m not— personally, I’m not sure that this was a major factor, frankly. I think Libya has concluded that it is in their interest now to regularize relationships with the West, that they have been under sanction for many years, economic conditions have not been optimal. They have a lot of resources they want to exploit— oil and gas. And he has come to the conclusion that they simply do not need either chemical or nuclear weapons, and they have decided to— I would say it’s the change of the whole international landscape. You know, I’m not sure Iraq is the one single factor. But again, I really cannot speak for them.
On the lessons of Iraq, I think one important lesson in Iraq [is] that inspection works. I mean, it’s very simple, that inspection did work in Iraq, you know. When we said that we disarmed Iraq from its weapon program, it was true. And I think that [this] is an important lesson for would-be proliferators [and] for would-be predators. They need to understand that inspection can work, if given the authority [and] if given the resources.
The other lesson of course [is] that we simply need to be patient, because it takes time. But time [as] I remember I said in the Security Council, sometimes time is an investment in peace, because if you can resolve issues without resorting to the use of force, that’s obviously in the interests of everyone.
ALLISON: On your Libyan question, in this book [“Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe”] that I’ve just done on nuclear terrorism, I report the speculation of some folks who follow this pretty carefully, just as a speculation, because I agree with Mohammad. Nobody knows the mind of Qaddafi. It’s the strangest of the birds, you know, in the aviary. [Laughter.]
But if you thought that a major attack, that there was going to be a nuclear terrorist attack, you might be quite eager to get yourself off the target list, which would be a not very comforting conclusion. Peter Goldmark.
QUESTIONER: My name is Peter Goldmark. I work for Environmental Defense. The past exchanges and questions have brought out a picture which, for me, implies we have ended the period when rational actors, such as Brazil, Argentina, and South Africa, could make careful decisions not to become powers. We’re dealing with a new class, North Korea, different incentives, different pressures, different worlds. You run the agency that has the primary charge, on the international level, with worrying about all this. When I try to follow what the IAEA is doing, I find myself often uncertain whether the IAEA is trying to be a scrupulous, independent, honest scorekeeper and monitor, or whether it’s also trying to negotiate solutions to some of these problems. You may tell me you’re trying to do both. When I think of you trying to do both, I’m a little uncomfortable. Do you want to comment on that?
ALLISON: Great question.
ELBARADEI: Yeah, I am doing both. But I’m doing both with— in context. I’m negotiating not the principles, I’m negotiating tactics. If I give a country one week to provide additional information, it does not mean I’m giving away any of our rights or it does not mean that I’m giving away any of the objectives. You need to deal with people. You have to set your objective. You have to keep your eyes on the ball. You have to make sure that you do not compromise. I mean, lots of times, I think, implicit in your decision that we are perceived— I am perceived— that we are soft. Well, it’s not a question of softness. It’s just a question of using diplomacy, if you like, to make sure that people understand what you are doing, earn their confidence, make them understand the cost and benefit, and move forward. I can assure you, we never compromise on the principles, and particularly on effectiveness or impartiality. Whether we can sit and talk to people, break bread together, talk to them about whatever social issue there is, this is part of the human interactions. I mean, again, we do technical work, but we do it in a diplomatic set. And you really need to use all the tools you have. And one of the tools we have, obviously, is to be able to get them together. I mean, if I take— I don’t want to make [an] example— you deal with a lot of these countries. There’s a lot of diffused authority. People have different views, and you really need to talk to the different factions and different groups, and speak to them probably in different tones, but make sure that at the end of the day they converge, they understand their interests, they understand the cost and benefit of cooperating with us. But at all times, they know that if they do not cooperate, they will get the appropriate scorecard. And if they get the appropriate scorecard, well, that’s the beginning of a different phase, because then you go into a confrontation phase.
ALLISON: I think it’s a great question, but I think you’re still being a little too diplomatic in the answer. I would say that you’re the world’s nuclear accountant. So you go around and the agency goes and finds if materials are missing, and that’s— in this domain, that’s its function. I think you then negotiate, as you say, but in tactical terms with other entities. What I think you’ve been doing, and which I applaud, is that you also are, for better or worse, kind of the strategist for the international community, pointing out that, hey, that the treaties we have, have a fatal loophole in them and we need to try to find a way to close that. Now it’s the member states that have the primary responsibility for doing that. But I think you haven’t shrunk from a much larger role, which I applaud.
ELBARADEI: I think, yes, we are the auditors, you know. I mean, if I take my job literally, I go and monitor. You know, I say how many nuclear materials do you have? What is missing? But in doing that, I try to encourage them, to make them understand— the auditees— that it is in their interest to come clean, you see, and coming clean means that I discuss with them the security concerns. I discuss with them what they benefit from [by] coming clean; I discuss with them the cost of not coming clean. So there are a lot of side issues, if you like.
I have to be aware of the environment within which I operate. We are [the] nuclear accountant, but we know that if I come with a negative card, there are lots of consequences which have to do with war and peace, and that’s what I also try to explain to them, you know.
ALLISON: Mr. [Jeffrey] Laurenti.
QUESTIONER: Jeff Laurenti with the United Nations Foundation. I wonder if we could explore for a second your call for nuclear renunciation by the nuclear weapons states as the single best form of nonproliferation or anti-proliferation, and just see whether it’s more than just a faith-based initiative. Even if you could get political [and] military establishments that have learned to love the bomb to be able to think beyond it, you still have the fundamental problem of showing how their giving it up is not going to risk their security if someone else under the table secretly develops an arsenal and springs it on them. What kinds of measures— national or international, inspections or enforcement— do you see as necessary to be able to make that onetime dream of a nuclear weapons-free world that the last American presidents to speak of, [Jimmy] Carter and [Ronald] Reagan, have since— it’s just since disappeared— to be able to make it real? And when you have a famously dysfunctional and immobilized political system like the U.N., how can you guarantee that there’s going to be serious action to make it stick? And by the way, what inspections do you now do in the nuclear weapons states?
ELBARADEI: Why don’t you ask 10 questions? But— [laughter]--but— [laughter]--well, there is a commitment since 1970 under the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the aim of all weapons states is to move to a nuclear disarmament. So this is not a renewed commitment. This is a commitment which we need to make sure that they made good on. I fully agree with you that this is something which you cannot do overnight, because, again, this is a system on which the world depends on since the ’40s. But my argument [is] that you really need to show that you are serious about that commitment [and] that you need to move forward.
I think— I mentioned that we still have like 30,000 warheads at least, in the world. When we come to the hundreds, we need then to think of what is the alternative of not having nuclear weapons. My argument that we really haven’t done any work to see— can we have a security system, a global security system that does not depend on nuclear weapons? Unless we do that, then our talk about nuclear disarmament is simply rhetoric. And I fully agree with you that you need a collective security system that is functional, which is not right now. I mean, I would not say dysfunctional U.N. security system, but I say it is not the system that you can now guarantee, trust— rely on with complete trust all the time.
One idea I raised, again, for lack of better ideas, is maybe at one point that permanent five of the Security Council can have under collective custody some remnant nuclear arsenal to deal with precisely the kind of cheaters, possible cheaters in the future. So there are, but we need to start thinking about that, because otherwise, again, we still talk about it as an act of faith and not as a dream.
We do little in the nuclear weapons states in terms of inspections because, again, we do select some facilities here and there simply if it is in our interest to learn something new. Otherwise, particularly given our stretched resources, there’s very little spending on the weapons states.
ALLISON: We have about one minute left, so a short question and a short answer. Please, sir.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. I’m Bill Varner, Bloomberg News. The world has sort of been astonished by the activities of [Pakistani nuclear scientist] Abdul Qadeer Khan in recent months. Do you accept the statement of the government of Pakistan that they had no knowledge of this? And if you do, what are the implications for a nuclear black market for weapons or technology?
ELBARADEI: My focus right now in dealing with the government of Pakistan, is to know who else got that stuff. That’s really my priority, not who knew what in Pakistan. That’s not my issue. My issue is, who got that stuff, where else [is it]? Who was involved in this black market? It’s a fascinating black market enterprise, if you like—
ALLISON: You’ve called it the Wal-Mart of nuclear proliferation.
ELBARADEI: It’s the Wal-Mart. It has spread all over the place. I should say, frankly, that we are now getting good cooperation from the Pakistani government in trying to help us resolve some issues in Iran, in Libya, and also trying to understand the full extent of the black market. But that’s still an issue very much on our mind. And as I said, my part of the deal is to know who got it. If somebody else wants to know who knew what [is] in Pakistan, that’s not me.
QUESTIONER: No, I meant the future.
ELBARADEI: The future? Oh, of course. The future. My understanding [of] the existing black market [is that] we are trying to make sure that it will not be emulated in the future, because of course there has been hundreds of millions of dollars pocketed by private individuals and it’s a very lucrative business, and we just need to make sure that that business will not be repeated.
ALLISON: Let me conclude with just a small comment. I think that if you needed any demonstration of the fact that the person who is working on these problems is thinking actively, this opportunity certainly demonstrates that. I think one of the other wonderful things about Mohamed, from my observation, is that he’s very open to ideas. He identifies problems and then looks for solutions. So this is an opportunity for places like the Council or those of us that think about these subjects to come up with some thoughts. This is a serious challenge for the whole international community. You’ve got a very receptive head of the IAEA who’s working on it very assiduously, but there are more ideas than we have thought of so far. So let’s say thank you very much. [Applause.]
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