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Interview with Mohamed Elbaradei

Aired October 8, 2002 - 12:18   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Today, we go one on one with one of the men who negotiated the return of U.N. weapons inspectors.
Joining us now for an exclusive interview from Vienna, Austria is Mohamed Elbaradei. He director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Dr. Elbaradei, thanks so much for joining us.

You probably heard President Bush make the case yesterday that the Iraqi regime was close to developing a nuclear capability. How close is the Iraqi government to that capability as far as you and your experts can tell?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIR. GENERAL, IAEA: I think we need to go back before we can have a definitive view of whether Iraq has revived its nuclear program and whether they are any closer than when we left in 1998. As you probably know, when we left in 1998, we believe that we neutralized the nuclear program. However we have been out for four years. A lot could happen in four years, and that's why I'm very keen to go back as soon as possible and do full and effective inspection, establish the facts and report to the international community.

BLITZER: The Bush administration, you probably know by now, has released satellite photographs, and we'll put it up to show our viewers, photographs which show what they say was an Iraqi nuclear facility in 1998. That's on the left side of the screen. You can see the arrows where the U.S. bombed those facilities, and now a more recent photograph taken showing that the structures -- you can see the arrows there -- have effectively been rebuilt. The president called this program part of the nuclear Mujahadeen, that Saddam Hussein refers to his nuclear scientists.

It looks like an extensive rebuilding campaign is under way. You can confirm that for us as well?

ELBARADEI: We have been, in fact, Wolf, monitoring through satellite imagery in the last four years what's happening in the nuclear -- or past nuclear facilities. We have seen a lot of buildings sprouting out here and there, but we don't know what's happening under these roofs. We need to go back to the facilities, inspect the facilities and then come out with the facts. And therefore, again, I emphasize that we need to go back. I'm optimistic. I think that hopefully, by the end of the month, once the Security Council completed deliberation on a new resolution, that we go back and come with the fact as we see them there. BLITZER: The president said that if the Iraqis manage to get highly enriched uranium the size of a softball, which is, of course, not very big, he says, they could have a nuclear device in a year. Is that your assessment as well?

ELBARADEI: It would be in fact very ominous if Iraq were to be able to get weapon usable material, hydro-plutonium or highly enriched uranium from abroad. In fact, that's something we alerted to the Security Council, too, as early as 1995, that it will be very difficult for us if Iraq were to be able to get its hand on weapon usable material from abroad, and that's why we continue to emphasize the importance of physical protection of nuclear materials and border control, particularly in the former Soviet Union, and that call remains valid today.

BLITZER: Is it your sense, Dr. Elbaradei, that the Iraqis right now will allow you and your inspectors unfettered, unrestricted inspections, without advanced warning, or will they insist on the terms that were negotiated with the U.N. secretary-general in 1998, Kofi Annan, that they must get advanced warning for so-called sensitive sites?

ELBARADEI: No, I think what we've got from the world last week in Vienna is commitment that we will get immediate, unconditional, unfettered access to all sites, with exception of the presidential sites, that were subject, or have been subject to an agreement between the Security Council and government of Iraq.

However, a couple of days ago, when I was in New York, consulting with the Security Council, there is a growing consensus in the Security Council that, again, this restriction on access to the presidential sites should go away, and I would hope, as I said, in the next couple of weeks, we will be able to get unfettered, immediate access to all parts of Iraq, all sites of Iraq's, presidential sites included.

BLITZER: So. Dr. Elbaradei, just to conclude, you agree with Hans Blix, the other chief U.N. weapons inspector, that another U.N. Security Council resolution should be adopted to give you and your team of experts more authority, more guidance on where, how far you could go actually in these renewed inspections in Iraq?

ELBARADEI: I think a new resolution that strengthens our hand, that clarifies our mandate, that confirms that Security Council resolve ensure compliance with Iraq will be a good beginning as we return back to Iraq after four years of absence.

BLITZER: Dr. Elbaradei, thanks for joining us. Thanks for your expertise, and good luck to you and your team on these renewed missions, assuming you get back into Iraq. We wish you only the best.

ELBARADEI: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.


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