Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Hero: Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA

If we don't all get blown up or irradiated, this man will have a lot to do with it. Since 1997, Egyptian-born Mohamed ElBaradei has served as the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a United Nations agency that tries to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and control "peaceful" nukes so they don't end up as bombs.

He is not the U.S.'s favorite guy. He was skeptical of charges that Saddam Hussein was developing nukes and debunked the Niger uranium sale forgeries that were part of the U.S. case for the Iraq war. The U.S. responded to this insubordination by trying unsuccessfully to deny him his current term as head of the IAEA.

What follows are excerpts from a much longer interview with ElBaradei recently published by the German newspaper Der Spiegel. Folks in the U.S. don't usually get to hear voices like this one.

ElBaradei: The next few months will be crucial for the overall situation in the Middle East. Whether we move in the direction of escalation or in the direction of a peaceful solution. ... There are hopeful and positive signs. For the first time, we have agreed, with the Iranians, to a sort of roadmap, a schedule, if you will, for clarifying the outstanding issues. We should know by November, or December at the latest, whether the Iranians will keep their promises. If they don't, Tehran will have missed a great opportunity -- possibly the last one.

SPIEGEL: The US government has described Iran's new willingness to cooperate as a transparent attempt to distract from its true intentions and from its continued development of the capabilities to produce a nuclear weapon. Is the IAEA too gullible?

ElBaradei: I am familiar with these accusations. They are completely untrue. It's not possible to manipulate us. We are not naïve and we do not take sides. ...

SPIEGEL: You are essentially asking for a time out. The Bush administration sees the issue quite differently. It wants to turn up the heat on the pressure cooker.

ElBaradei: Careful! If we turn up the heat too high the pot could explode around our ears. ... You can only set up so many roadmaps. If there is no basis for trust, all that effort is in vain. Sanctions alone will not produce a lasting solution. What we need in the Middle East is not more weapons, but better educational opportunities and more security for people. We should remind ourselves every day of the terrible situation of Iraq's civilians. ...


SPIEGEL: ...But one could ... say that dictator Kim Jong Il expelled your inspectors, violated his obligations, tested a bomb and thereby blackmailed the international community.

ElBaradei: I am not defending the regime in North Korea, just as the issue is not a ranking of governments that are more or less acceptable to me. But in Pyongyang the desire to obtain the ultimate weapon also arose from a feeling of insecurity and the idea that outside forces planned to topple the regime, as well as the desire for security guarantees. The outcome of the six-party talks with North Korea was decisive. After five years of talking to each other, it remains indisputable that dialogue brought an easing of tensions and, once its nuclear arsenal has been completely eliminated, will bring Pyongyang back into the fold of the IAEA. ...

SPIEGEL: Isn't this sending the wrong message to the world's despotic rulers -- acquire nuclear weapons or seriously threaten to develop a nuclear weapons program and you'll be taken seriously?

ElBaradei: There is that risk. But, on the other hand, in order to seem credible to the nuclear wannabe states we must demand steps toward nuclear disarmament from those who have nuclear weapons -- an obligation that is stipulated in the nonproliferation treaty but is not complied with. I deplore this two-faced approach. If practically all nuclear powers are modernizing instead of reducing their arsenals, how can we argue with the non-nuclear states? ...

SPIEGEL: There is already speculation that al-Qaida is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. Do you think there is a real risk that terrorists will obtain the ultimate weapon?

ElBaradei: That's my greatest concern, a horror scenario. I'm not thinking about a nuclear weapon. No terrorist organization has the necessary know-how or potential to acquire these weapons. But a small, so-called dirty bomb containing radioactive material, detonated somewhere in a major city, could cost human lives and set off massive terror with serious economic consequences. Sometimes I think it's a miracle that it hasn't happened yet. I pray that it remains that way....

SPIEGEL: You have headed the IAEA for 10 years now. Has your job become easier or more difficult over the years?

ElBaradei: More difficult. We pay completely inadequate attention to the important threats, the inhuman living conditions of billions of people, climate change and the potential for nuclear holocaust. We stand at a crossroads, and we are moving rapidly toward an abyss. There are currently 27,000 nuclear warheads in the world. If we don't change our way of thinking, John F. Kennedy's prediction that there would be 20 nuclear powers will soon come true. And with each new player and each new weapon, the risk of a planned or accidental nuclear war increases. ...

We must never forget that the dispute over nuclear weapons is not a game, but deadly serious. It can easily lead to a catastrophe and jeopardize the basis for the existence of all mankind. We need an international system of security guarantees, in which no country depends on nuclear weapons. We cannot wait any longer for this to happen. Not a day longer.

Lots in this to consider while Bush threatens Iran and blusters about "success" in Iraq.

The rest of the world understands what a treasure this man and his agency are. In 2005, ElBaradei and the IAEA were honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.


Jane R said...

Amen. Or as they say in these Quaker parts, "Friend speaks my mind." Thanks for this.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Jan, thank you for this. ElBaradei is a hero.

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