“Some people want to make it appear that we will wake up tomorrow and find that Iran has developed the bomb. This is not the case. Sixteen US intelligence agencies have said that Iran stopped working on developing the bomb in 2003.”
Mohamad ElBaradei served three terms as Director of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Prior to the US invasion of Iraq, he told the UN Security Council that according to their inspections Iraq was not in fact developing weapons of mass destruction and had abandoned their nuclear weapons program.
During his third term ElBaradei was commended by the UN Security Council and others for his “professional and impartial efforts” to resolve all outstanding issues with Iran. Speaking strongly against the use of force against Iran he has stated repeatedly that based on the agency’s inspections he does not believe Iran is producing nuclear weapons currently and will not be capable of doing so for years to come.
The following interview, conducted by Mary Wald, Publisher of thecommunity.com, is the second part of two. To read Part One click here.
TCC: Dr. ElBaradei, you’ve spoken of the need to separate politics from humanitarian issues in Gaza. Is any progress being made on this with the easing of the blockade?
MEB: No unfortunately, I don’t think so.
I have always believed that civilians shouldn’t be the victims. Innocent civilians are paying the price in Gaza. As is often the case sanctions do not affect the people in power. In many cases they actually make money out of it.
The policy toward Gaza is a failure.
More than that, what message is this policy sending to the rest of the Arab world? Gaza went through one of the first democratic elections in the region. And they are reduced to rubble and its population starving because of sharp policy disagreements between their elected representatives and Israel and the West.
What message are you sending to the rest of world? Go through the democratic processes and if we don’t like the outcome we will make you suffer?
When the Arab world sees this it creates a sense of humiliation. They are treated differently, with a double standard. They see Palestinian lands being confiscated and no prospect for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state but settlements being built, people being evicted.
When they look around it is only Muslims being killed in conflict. Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Darfur.
It’s easy for extremists to say this is a conspiracy against Muslims. Then you start hearing about the “Clash of Civilizations”, pending global confrontations.
It’s bogus. These are not clash of civilization issues but down to earth political issues that need to be settled. And Gaza is one. It’s not going to resolve by a blockade. It needs to be settled.
We all know what that solution looks like — the pre-67 borders, share Jerusalem, resettle the refugees. This is where it will be solved. Not by creating more insecurity, not by more humiliation.
TCC: In January of this year you seemed hopeful that Obama could possibly negotiate a comprehensive package with Iran that could defuse the tensions over their nuclear weapons program.
Do you still feel optimistic about this, or is the window closing?
MEB: I was very disappointed with this last round of sanctions.
I thought the Turkish Brazilian package was what the West was looking for, that it could help to defuse the crisis.
Before I left office I had phone conversations with Obama and met with Ahmadinejad. Both were quite keen to have a comprehensive settlement of all outstanding issues between Iran and the US. The fuel package was meant to reduce the tension and create space for negotiation. This package would move about half of the fissile material out of Iran.
If they wanted to make a bomb, they are still few years away from that, and we still have time to negotiate.
It’s important to understand that US Iran relations will not resolve through confrontation. Yes, there are a lot of grievances . But these will only resolve by building trust. And the only way to start building that trust is to get to the negotiating table.
We wasted a lot of time with the Bush administration’s “preconditions” to negotiations, which said they would not negotiate unless they were given everything that was up for negotiation in advance of the negotiations. Obama has gotten the door open again by talking about mutual respect, negotiations without preconditions and addressing what I said earlier about the sense of humiliation in the Arab world.
Turkey and Brazil got Iran to accept a fuel deal that could be built upon through negotiations.. I was disappointed that the reaction was to have more sanctions, another round.
There is no other way through this than to get everyone sitting around a table — and not waiting to see who blinks first. Both need to blink.
Some people want to make it appear that we will wake up tomorrow and find that Iran has developed the bomb. This is not the case. Sixteen US intelligence agencies have said that Iran stopped working on developing the bomb in 2003. But they are working to build the technological know how.
For Iran and other countries having the technology for nuclear weapons is more a matter of power and prestige. And it is an insurance policy. A country that has nuclear technology gets treated differently than one that does not.
Look at Kim Jong Il. The US is willing to sit around a table with him to find a solution, where they were not willing to do the same with Iraq. This does not go unnoticed. It creates a field where if you want to be a player, you should have nuclear know how if not nuclear weapons. For Iran, having nuclear know how is a means to force the West to treat them as an important force in the region. And they are an important force in the region.
You can disagree with Iran’s policies. But my greatest worry is not about their government or other governments using the bomb. Any government today knows that if they were to use nuclear weapons they would be pulverized.
I worry much more about extremists getting nuclear technology because they will use it. To them the loss of life is religious martyrdom. They could use it. But the leaders of countries, unless they are completely mad, would not, as they know they would destroy their country in the process.
With Iran I am optimistic that we will realize that all sides have to come back to sit and discuss the issues, with close interaction, and arrive at a solution that moderates behavior on all sides. The recent moves by all sides to find a way to move to the negotiating table renews my sense of optimism.
In general, situations of mistrust do not resolve with thinking of using force. They resolve with connectivity and reaching out to each other, with the realization that no one country can resolve any issue on its own, that we are more and more interconnected. We will all win together, or lose individually.
TCC: Our readers are people who are interested in changing the world for the better, and they look to the Nobel Peace Prize winners as leaders in change. And of course we all watch the Middle East.
After your extensive dealings with Iran, and now your on the ground perspective in Egypt, what are the issues we should be watching right now?
MEB: The Middle East is in a state of disconnect with the rest of the world right now. The people are living with mistrust and anger as they feel they are treated with double standards by the West, and at the same time marginalized or repressed by their own governments.
We have to make good on the things that Obama has talked about. We need to fix the endemic conflicts in the region, starting with Palestine.
What is needed in the Middle East is to build trust. The people need to treated as equals, they need to understand that you are not really after them, that the West wants to work with them and care for the conflicts that are ravaging their area. The US is not responsible for the entirety of it of course. But there is still much to account for.
I always say that psychology is as important as substance. Senior Iranians have said to me: ”If the West starts telling us what to do we will never do it — even if it’s the right thing to do.“
We need to feel that we are all part of same family first, then start to settle the differences in perceptions and values. If you treat people as human beings, they will act as human beings.
How do you think it makes people feel, for example, when you know the name, the parents and the photo of every American killed in Iraq? And the US does not even bother to count the Iraqis killed? They don’t even count them!
The UN has been calling for years for just 18 military helicopters for the peacekeeping mission in Sudan. The West has not put up one helicopter. Yet Afghanistan is full of US and Western military helicopters.
It creates the impression that the US and the West are only interested when it comes to their own national interests.
We have to decide, if we are going to have a security system based on Euro-Atlantic interests, or on global solidarity. A system based on the global interest of the human family is the only way to go. Unless you grant everyone the same rights and freedoms, you cannot talk peace. You can only talk who has the biggest club. And the biggest club is a nuclear weapon.
It is a credit to Obama that he has said he will work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Reagan said the same.
TCC: Americans are great fans these days of signing online petitions asking for change in the Middle East. The most recent were a number of petitions to stop the practice of stoning and spare the life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.
I often wonder how these petitions are actually received in the government halls of the the countries they are addressed to. Is anyone listening to our petitions?
MEB:Yes and no. The issue of stoning is a serious and valid issue and it needs to be discussed. But sometimes even when these actions say the right things, they sometimes bring a negative reaction because of where it comes from. They can get a less than warm reception.
In Egypt we want democracy. But we don’t want the US to come and tell us how to do it.
Where it is possible, conversations between civil society to civil society can open trust. Governments do not always represent the conscience of the people. I think perhaps we need a group of maybe 50 people, with impeccable reputation of integrity and credibility, who would be able to represent the conscience of the people particularly during major humanitarian crises. These should be people who don’t have an election coming up.
TCC: Right now, which do you think has a greater chance of occurring in the next 25 years – nuclear war in the Middle East, or a nuclear free Middle East? And what really can be done to tip the scales toward the nuclear free option?
MEB: I believe, assuming that we will continue to maintain a minimum degree of rationality, the prospect of a nuclear war in the Middle East or anywhere else is minimal, since we know that a nuclear war means the destruction of our world as we know it, irrespective of who is right and who is wrong. We would all self destruct.
But whether we will continue to maintain the possession of nuclear weapons and with it the danger of some of these weapons falling into the hands of extremists, or come to our senses and establish a world free from nuclear weapons, depends on many factors:
1.The realization that nuclear weapons threaten and do not assure
2.The major nuclear weapon states (US and Russia) taking the lead in working to achieve a nuclear weapon free world
3.Resolving the festering endemic conflicts.
4.Development of a global security system that is equitable and that does not depend on nuclear weapons. It would have to be one that is rooted in human solidarity rather than nuclear have and have nots.
Resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and establish regimes based on good governance and democracy, create a global environment where nuclear weapons does not confer power and prestige or insurance, and you will create disincentives for countries in the Middle East to develop nuclear weapons, and enhance the prospect of a weapons free Middle East.
Maintain the status quo of nuclear have and have nots and leave the conflicts in the region to fester and the authoritarian regimes to maintain the repression of their people and you will get a much more radicalized Middle East, with more countries trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Or much much worse, you will have extremist groups acquiring such weapons with it a high probability of using them.
The choice is ours. I hope that we will make the right choice.
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