IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei addressed a wide range of nonproliferation challenges yesterday in a conversation with Robert Gallucci at Georgetown University. The Director General was invited to receive the university’s prestigious Raymond “Jit” Trainor Award for Distinction in the Conduct of Diplomacy.

 

On North Korea, an East Asian Nuclear Chain Reaction, and Imposing Sanctions

 

ElBaradei made a clear distinction in his remarks between the North Korean and Iranian nuclear crises. The recent nuclear test in North Korea, ElBaradei stated, was a “cry for help” from a country that feels the nuclear issue “is the only trump card they have.” He said that their test is a “question of regime survival, and for them the test is to say… ‘we could do more harm… if you don’t come and talk to us.'”

 

In response to Gallucci’s question of whether Japan and South Korea will pursue nuclear weapons in response to the North Korean test, ElBaradei said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured the U.S. allies that they would continue to be under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but the Director General warned that a second test could lead to a “rethinking” by North Korea’s neighbors of whether to develop their own deterrents.

 

Sanctions, ElBaradei stated, “do not work as a penalty,” but should instead be viewed as a “measured way to induce change of behavior.”

 

On Iran

 

Iran is “not only a question of regime survival,” according to Dr. ElBaradei, but “a question of ideology.” He outlined that part of the concern about “Iran acquiring nuclear weapons is that it might pursue an aggressive foreign policy.”

 

Again stressing the importance of dialogue, the Director General commented on his perspective on how he believes Iran views the EU-Iranian negotiations, saying “talking to the Europeans is a bridge to reaching out to the U.S.” He stated his view that Iran “would like nothing else… than a normal relationship with the U.S.” Nuclear weapons, he continued, are a sign of prestige and influence, and he believes that Iranians see enrichment as the key to being “recognized as a major power.”

 

Acknowledging international apprehension about nuclear program, he discussed the difference between “future intention” and “industrial capacity.” The IAEA reported Iran to the Security Council in February 2006 for not fully reporting its nuclear activities. While Iran, he stated, has the capacity to enrich, “the jury is still out” on whether or not Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

 

On Dual-use Technologies

 

Dr. ElBaradei the broached a critical issue related to the Iranian nuclear crisis, indicating, “we need to stop the proliferation of enrichment and reprocessing [technology], because otherwise we’ll have, in addition to the nine nuclear weapons states we have today, another score of countries who I call ‘virtual’ nuclear weapons states, countries that are able to develop nuclear weapons overnight, if you like.”

 

Explaining a dangerous loophole in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Dr. ElBaradei stated that the NPT was developed 30 years ago and was based on the assumption that nuclear technology is a “very sophisticated technology that not many countries will be able to muster” and that “we can deal with it through export control.” However, the Director General said, “since the A.Q. Khan network and illicit trafficking, we have realized that many countries now can develop that technology… indigenously right now.” Dr. ElBaradei spoke about the need to “restrict an individual country or national countries having enrichment [or] reprocessing on their own.

 

He outlined possible solutions, saying that “we need an additional protocol, if you like, to the nonproliferation treaty that limits the acquisition of enrichment or reprocessing.” He added that at the very minimum, enrichment capabilities should be “multinational so no one country can sit on an enrichment factory , because sitting on an enrichment factory means that that country in a couple of months could develop a nuclear weapon, if their sense of security has changed.”

 

Addressing the inherent dangers of a civilian fuel cycle that can be used to either develop low-enriched uranium or highly-enriched uranium for bombs, he continued, “we need to see how much we can restrict the use of highly enriched uranium and plutonium on the civilian fuel cycle.” He noted that “a lot of technology R&D going on right now to develop a system that is proliferation resistance that does not automatically lead to a possibility of separating plutonium.”

 

We are trying to reduce very much the use of highly enriched uranium. I mean, we have a program that now converting all research reactors from highly enriched uranium into low enriched uranium.

 

Strengthening the Non-Proliferation Regime

 

Dr. ElBaradei spoke about the importance of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to strengthen international norms against nuclear testing. He said that a “clear-cut, legally binding norm against nuclear testing” would be useful in dealing with the North Korean nuclear test or India’s refusal to accept a test-ban.

 

He also urged the international community to begin negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. Addressing the contentious issue of whether a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty could be verifiable, the Director General said, “from our perspective, it is verifiable.” He continued, “It might not be perfect. It might be difficult some time, of course, because you have to make a distinction between the stockpile of the weapons states and a new production.” ElBaradei indicated that a verification system would make it difficult for countries to cheat. He also added that a de facto verification process already taking place in “Japan [and] in many other countries to make sure that we’re verifying the enrichment and reprocessing capability declared, and … to make sure that there is not undeclared enrichment for reprocessing.”

 

Disarmament

 

In his closing remarks, Dr. ElBaradei emphasized the need for those “nine states that have nuclear weapons to move towards nuclear disarmament.” He stated, “it’s a multi-pronged approach that we need to do so that at the end of the day, we can say we have what we think is a regime that can protect us from nuclear weapons being used either by states, or worse by extremist groups.”