Legacy-building IAEA chief goes public with closed-door remarks

June 19, 2009

Insiders say Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was rather reticent and stiff in public when he took the job in 1997. He’d spent decades below the radar in Egypt’s foreign service, U.S. academia and the U.N. nuclear watchdog as head of the legal and external relations divisions.

But Mohamed ElBaradei evolved into a politically outspoken tribune for international peace and fair play.

That reputation grew as he challenged George W. Bush’s neocons over bogus evidence of mass-destruction weaponry they used to invade Iraq, and their policy of threatening rather than negotiating with Iran, which seemed to backfire by encouraging, not dissuading, Tehran to build up nuclear capability.

ElBaradei’s campaigning for negotiated non-proliferation, disarmament and development through peaceful uses of the atom earned a Nobel Peace Prize for him and the IAEA in 2005.
Now, as he prepares to retire in November, the 66-year-old, self-described “secular pope” has gone into legacy-building overdrive. Media interviews have proliferated with cable TV or web magazine outlets that air or publish his remarks unedited.

This week ElBaradei went public even in private, expounding off-the-cuff and very undiplomatically at a closed door meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors, then authorising his remarks to be “leaked” to the media outside.

At other governors’ meetings dealing with hot-button issues like Iran’s stonewalling of IAEA investigators, I had to chase participants by sms or after-hours phone calls just to get tiny,
broken snippets of what ElBaradei had said inside.

This time, whole transcripts of his interventions on the boardroom floor found their way to nuclear beat reporters.

ElBaradei pulled no punches. And the pickings were rich.

On Tuesday, he lambasted the governors for their protracted failure to reach consensus on a big budget rise he wants to upgrade a crumbling inspections regime he said threatens to turn the IAEA into a laughing stock among nuclear proliferators.

“What you are reaping today is what you have sown for the last 20 years of zero real growth budgets,” he said.

“The whole idea that now we have to go out and borrow or hold out our hands and say, ‘Please give us some money to do safety and security,’ is really a bastardisation of an international organisation,” ElBaradei fumed.

“Today our lab lacks the equipment to do sensitive particle analysis. How can I come here and tell you I have credible conclusions on issues that have tio do with war and peace?

“If you come to me and say cut here or cut there, I and my colleagues will not assume responsibility if in a couple of years from now we see another Chernobyl, or a nuclear terrorist attack, or a clandestine nuclear programme.”

On Wednesday, ElBaradei dispensed with diplomatic caveats by telling the BBC it was “his gut feeling” that Iran “definitely would like to have the technology that would enable it to have nuclear weapons if they decided to do so”.

To IAEA governors, he said the IAEA’s mission to prevent nuclear weapons spreading to unstable regions was “going around in circles” because it lacked enforcement tools and world powers
had not negotiated seriously with states like Iran, or shared intelligence with U.N. inspectors in a timely way.

“We are sometimes called the ‘watchdog,’ but we don’t bark at all if we don’t have the legal authority to do our work.

“The U.N. Security Council shouldnot necessarily mean just sanctions. It is supposed to be a forum to find solutions,” he said. “When there’s no dialogue, we come to a standstill. We are completely gridlocked in North Korea and Iran.”
On Thursday, simmering tensions between Israel and ElBaradei boiled over at the Board when the Jewish state’s envoy accused him of political bias and lacking assertiveness in his probe into an alleged secret plutonium reactor site in Syria.
That was a “totally distorted” position, ElBaradei shot back. He upbraided Israel for trying to tell the IAEA how to do its verification job but hindering it from doing that job by having bombed the purported reactor to ruin in 2007 before alerting inspectors first to check the evidence.

“(Israel says) we refrain from using tools. Israel is not even a member of the Non-Proliferation Regime, to tell us what tools are available to us. You cannot sit on the fence, making use of the system, without being accountable.

“To say I am biased, I won’t dignify that with a response.”

On Thursday, the IAEA governors, citing rights disputes, derailed ElBaradei’s campaign for a global nuclear fuel supply bank that would reduce the appeal of proliferation-prone enrichment in unstable states.

It was a stinging setback to his vision of stemming the spread of nuclear arms knowhow while sharing atomic energy for peaceful purposes in a safe, accountable way.
This time, ElBaradei was silent.

But he still has a few more months to weigh in on this and all his passionately-felt themes of war and peace — and later when he will be in demand on the global lecture circuit.

(International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei attends a board of Governors meeting at Vienna’s UN headquarters June 15, 2009. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer (AUSTRIA POLITICS ENERGY HEADSHOT))


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Mohammed is finally speaking up. It’s high noon for NPT to finally work in favour of peaceful uses of nuclear energy under IAEA regime.The best thing BHO can do right now is to summon this ex-Prof of International Law into his Oval Office and ask him a simple question: *How can we finally overcome the demise of NPT…and make the world safe of WMD?*Moreover, before he departs for his final destination and retirement, you guys should also speak to his good wife to learn about his frustrations of managing IAEA. The role of US, EU-27 and other countries to undermine the authority of IAEA and NPT regulations.His predecessor was my countryman, and he lasted more about three decades in-office because neither US nor Soviet Union could agree on an *alternate* candidate.The tragedy of not doing enough from a budgetary point of view and stregthening NPT regime and its inspection system with some teeth…will finally come to haunt the current nuclear powers.Proliferation is not an illness of NPT regime; it is a symptom of US beltway intellectual haughtiness by politically challenging the personal/professional integrity of the Egyptian Professor and his long international public service.

Posted by hari | Report as abusive

The IAEA could go more public with the full test results of the uranium samples from the Al Khibar site in Syria.But for diplomatic reasons they have chosen not to. Todate they have reported that the uranium samples tested were not from nuclear fuel (IAEA should be experts in recognising nuclear fuel), that they were undepleted (natural ratio of U235/U238) but anthropomorphic (man made)and that they were oxides from a high temperature event (i.e. a non-fission explosion).One report suggested they were not from the Israeli weapons because the material was not depleted uranium. This disregarded evidence that a new generation of weapons may be enhanced use undepleted uranium as ballast, in liners or explosives to enhance penetration and high temperature incendiary effects (see link below*).The characteristics leaked so far by the IAEA match the uranium oxide samples collected by UNEP, me and another researcher from an Israeli bomb crater at Khiam in southern Lebanon in September and November 2006. For diplomatic reasons UNEP decided not to publish its data with samples up to 26x normal levels of undepleted uranium contamination inside the Khiam crater.I sent copies of the UNEP and UK tested sample data to IAEA in November 2008 for them to compare with the contamination they discovered in Syria. I have no doubt that the IAEA knew exactly what the origin of the uranium contamination was – within 3 weeks of collecting the samples. IAEA invited Israel to explain why uranium warheads were used – which was of course denied. But the IAEA would also know that the 1000lb or 2000lb hard target bunker buster warheads used by the IDF were most likely those supplied by the USA to Israel in July 2006 -most likely the GBU-24.However by publishing the full test data and its comparison with the Lebanon crater samples the IAEA would endorse other evidence of uranium contamination from large ‘conventional’ warheads following bombing by US or allied forces in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and most recently in Gaza.Bombing a suspected nuclear facility – in Syria or potentially in Iran – with large uranium warheads is bound to cause uranium contamination. This may have been intended in Syria to provide incriminating evidence to suggest that the target was a nuclear reactor under construction. But the characteristics of different types of uranium metal, alloys and oxides give distinctive isotopic and other ‘fingerprints’ to distinguish sources from weapons and reactors. Israel and the US must have realised this soon after the attack in September 1997 -perhaps explaining the sudden thaw in diplomatic relations with Syria. The strike would reveal the new US weapons.It is ironic that US and Israeli spokesmen have been the most vocal critics of the IAEA’s actions in Syria. They are trusting El Baradei and the IAEA not to disclose official proof of the new generation of large ‘conventional’ uranium weapons they have developed since 1997. This would require a review of all UN and IAEA environmental testing in recent conflict zones since the Balkans War in 1999. It would raise obvious arms control issues over the development and use of large radiological weapons by IAEA member states.The context and sources for these comments was published in the UNIDIR journal Disarmament Forum Issue 3, 2008 – Uranium Weapons – at http://www.unidir.ch/bdd/fiche-article.p hp?ref_article=2759==

Posted by Dai Williams | Report as abusive

The non-proliferation treaty is a joke that only benefits countries that already have a nuclear arsenal. If it is to be taken seriously, states with large nuclear arsenals should not be allowed to participate unless they are constantly reducing their stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.None of these international organizations like the UN, International Courts or the IAEA can work effectively unless they treat all countries with impartiality. Unfortunately they are only able to effect weak, usually third world countries and are usually just used as tools of legitimization by the powerful nations that create them.When the UN “failed” to back fraudulent US accusations prior to their invading Iraq, the question was immediately raised of whether the UN “was relevant” anymore..Which is to imply – if we cant bend them to our will, what are they good for?Like so many vetoed resolutions on Israel, the US will choose when the standards and policies of the IAEA are beneficial to its ‘interests’, and if funding is lacking its probably because nobody is seeing a return on their investments.

Posted by brian | Report as abusive

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