IAEA’s ElBaradei knocks heads together on Iran
At his penultimate meeting with governors of the U.N. nuclear watchdog before he steps down in November, Mohamed ElBaradei gave diplomats a reminder of the colourful prose and no-nonsense authority they may soon miss.
A veteran of the long-running dispute between the West and Iran over its contentious nuclear programme, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency urged the 35-nation governing body to “put (your) heads together to break the logjam,” on the same day that Tehran submitted a package of proposals to foreign powers.
He criticised countries — he did not name them but was clearly referring to Israel and France — who have suggested he hid evidence from his latest written report on Iran, pointing undeniably to illicit Iranian research into the making of atomic bombs.
“Talking about formalities, whether the work plan has been implemented or not, whether people telling us how to suck eggs, how to write our reports, whether there is a (secret) annex (on Iran) — these are not the issues,” he said in a swipe at both sides of the debate.
“If anybody…has any information we have not shared, that has passed muster, been assessed critically in accordance with our practices, please step forward today. Otherwise, as a preacher would say, you should forever hold your peace,” ElBaradei told delegates.
“We have, in our reports, always tried not to understate the facts or overstate the facts. We have serious concerns, but we are not in a state of panic. Because we have not seen diversion of nuclear material, we have not seen components of nuclear weapons. We do not have any information to that effect.”
ElBaradei’s Aug. 28 report lent credence to a Western the intelligence dossier implying military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear activity. But ElBaradei said caveats were still in order.
“It’s alleged (studies), the whole question is about accuracy, whether this is real — that is the $64,000 question. That is where we are stuck, we have a limited ability to authenticate,” ElBaradei said. “People talk about assessments. I’m not a rocket scientist,” the 67-year-old lawyer and diplomat said.
But the agency is losing patience with Iran, he said, for stonewalling IAEA efforts to verify that its nuclear programme is peaceful.
“I know you have been reacting to others,” ElBaradei told Iranian ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, referring to Tehran’s 2006 decision to stop wider-ranging agency inspections because of U.N. sanctions. “But you are not penalizing others, you are penalizing yourself.”
Further, ElBaradei prodded Iran to stop evading a U.S.-led big power offer of negotiations that would provide it major trade benefits if it reined in its nuclear activity and made it transparent to non-proliferation inspectors.
“I’ve told (Iran) I don’t see where the problem is. The U.S. is making an offer without preconditions on that base of mutual respect. Soltanieh has said they are ready to have a comprehensive dialogue. I say the offer by the US can not be refused because it has no conditions attached to it and is based on mutual respect.”
He also warned Iran’s strongest Western critics against hyping the Iranian threat by talking about supposed IAEA cover-ups. “(You are) trying to undermine the agency, (but) in the end (you are) undermining your own credibility. We went through this during the time of Iraq.”
An outspoken ElBaradei clashed with the former U.S. administration over what he saw as its confrontational policy towards Iraq and Iran. He has said that anyone considering military force against the Islamic Republic would be “bonkers”.
ElBaradei’s more soft-spoken, reserved successor, Yukiya Amano of Japan, takes over in December.