Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei was the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an inter-governmental organization under the auspices of the United Nations, from December 1997 to November 2009. Dr. ElBaradei and the IAEA were awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for “for their efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes and to ensure that nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is used in the safest possible way.”
Marc Perelman, France24: The Iran issue has been again in the news. There were reports about a new agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey; it was met with some discontent in Western capitals. I’m assuming you still follow the issue. What do you make of it?
Mohamed ElBaradei: I am following the issue. I have been in contact with the Brazilians and the Turks even after I left. I believe it’s quite a good agreement. I don’t know all the details. It depends on whether you want to see the glass as half full or half empty. I have been always saying that the only way to resolve the Iranian issue is to build trust. Moving 1,200, half, or at least more than half of the Iranian nuclear material out of Iran is a confidence-building measure; it would defuse the crisis and enable the US and the West [to gain] the space to negotiate. So, I hope that it would be perceived as a win-win situation. If we see — what I have been reading the last couple of days — that this is an “empty dressing,” I think it is a wrong approach. I think there is no other way but to engage Iran, negotiate with Iran, and we have been waiting for this deal as a precursor for a full-scope negotiation. That is the only way to go in my view.
Perelman: Are you saying that Iran now appears to be committed to talks whereas the West is bent on slapping sanctions on Iran?
ElBaradei: Well, Iran is prepared to talk. I know Barack Obama is prepared to talk. And I base that on my discussion a few months ago with both Ahmadinejad and Barack Obama. Of course nobody wants to give everything before negotiation but both of them are committed to negotiation. And I think that the condition now with this agreement is absolutely ripe to engage in a full-fledged negotiation. How Iran’s nuclear issue will be resolved? Well, that has to go to the negotiating table.
Perelman: So, you don’t agree with the West’s contention that Iran is playing for time and not seeking negotiations?
ElBaradei: I totally disagree. We lost six years of failed policy frankly vis-à-vis Iran. And it’s about time now to understand that the Iranian issue is not going to be resolved except, until and unless we sit with the Iranians and try to find a fair and equitable solution.
Perelman: But the President of the United State, Barack Obama, said that he extended a hand to Iran, it lasted for several months, and there is the impression that Iran did not grab that hand.
ElBaradei: It didn’t for a while because there was turmoil inside Iran after the election in Iran, but now with this agreement Iran is returning, I think, is opening, you know, or is stretching its hand back to Barack Obama. There might be details that need to be worked out, but I think that the basic deal fundamentally is a good deal.
Perelman: OK, just the last issue, actually the two issues you’ve been working on, the issue of Israel’s nuclear weapons. I mean Arab countries including Egypt have been saying for years we need a WMD-free Middle East and therefore the issue of Israel needs to be raised. What do you think of that?
ElBaradei: Well, it needs to be raised. Obviously it has to be raised in the context of peace and security in the Middle East. I don’t think it’s going to be resolved before peace is established in the Middle East. We need to work with both simultaneously. We need, the Israelis need, to seriously address the Palestinian issue and continue to change their goalpost every day. And they have to also understand that security and elimination of weapons of mass destruction is part of the peace process. You cannot have peace without security and vice versa. So, my recommendation: work on peace, genuine peace, and work on security. Clear the Middle East from weapons of mass destruction. It’s about time after hundred years that we, people in the Middle East, have a life.
The above is a transcript of the part of the France24 interview with Elbaradei (18 May 2010) that concerns Iran.