Mohamed ElBaradei is a big gun in the non-proliferation business. The IAEA chief, in India at the invitation of the Hindustan Times, spoke exclusively to Amit Baruah ahead of his address at the HT Leadership Summit on Friday. Excerpts from the interview:
What's the sense you got from your meetings with Indian leaders? When do you think we can begin negotiations on an India-specific safeguards agreement?
Let me first speak about the broad picture. The broad picture is a government commitment, to which I fully subscribe, that they need to make full use of nuclear energy as part of India's energy mix. Without energy, there is no development and India is growing at 9 per cent (annually).
Your mix of energy right now needs much to be desired. Coal is going to last 40 years, the oil you rely on so much is imported to the extent of 70 per cent. Renewables are quite expensive though you use some of them. You have an increasing demand for energy and fluctuating energy prices, reliance on imports, climate change which is becoming an issue globally.
Of course, India is not a major producer of greenhouse gases per capita, but overall still a lot of greenhouse gases are produced here…nuclear energy has to be a part of the energy mix. If you look at the US for instance, nuclear energy is 20 per cent (of total generation), Japan is 30 per cent, France is 78 per cent and China is expanding its nuclear energy capability.
If you want to lift people out of poverty, to maintain the growth you've had in the last few years, then nuclear energy has to be a part of the energy mix. It's a clean source of energy. It will ensure energy independence and will help mitigate climate change.
India wants to make sure that it's free and has the flexibility to have freedom of choice to use state of the art nuclear technology, both as a recipient and a supplier. India's indigenous nuclear sector is very well developed. It is quite a good model for many developing countries.
India's bilateral agreement (with the US) is meant to trigger a removal of the restrictions that have been imposed on it since 1974. It is an India-US agreement, but you have to look at it as an agreement that will trigger removal of these restrictions by the 45 countries that form part of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
The other issue that came up in all my meetings with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the National Security Adviser was that India would again like to be at the forefront of efforts to rid our world of nuclear weapons.
India has a long distinguished tradition since Jawaharlal Nehru that we need to eliminate nuclear weapons…that was repeated a few years ago by Rajiv Gandhi. We are now in a time when the entire non-proliferation regime is being re-evaluated. We need to overhaul the system.
Where do your situate India in this new regime?
I think India has to be a full partner in all the efforts for nuclear arms control, for nuclear disarmament. India is a nuclear weapons State and it has to be part (of the international regime).
Essentially, the India-US agreement has two broad objectives. It will allow India to become part of the international nuclear mainstream and bring India to the top of the debate on arms control.
You have spoken about building an international nuclear fuel bank and referred recently to offers from Russia and Germany. Are we anywhere close to a situation where such a bank becomes a reality?
We are working hard on that. We are in discussions with the Russians; they have offered to put a number of (reactor) fuel cores under Agency supervision. We are also in discussions with Germany on building an all-new enrichment facility, manned internationally by the IAEA.
There are a number of ideas on the table. I would hope that within a year or so we would be able to establish a virtual or actual bank…manned under apolitical, non-discriminatory criteria to provide assurance of (fuel) supply in case of interruption for political reasons.
I am pushing that all new enrichment and reprocessing facilities should be internationally or regionally manned, not under exclusive control of any one country. Ultimately, I hope even existing enrichment facilities would come under international control.
Clearly, having better control over the sensitive part of the fuel cycle is one of the key issues because if you have nuclear weapons' material, you're not really very far away, you are a stone's throw, in fact, from having a nuclear weapon.
A system that says nuclear weapons are good for us, but not for you is not sustainable in the long term. The result: either we are going to build a security system that does not depend on nuclear weapons or accept the unfortunate reality that more and more countries will develop nuclear weapons. The technology is out of the tube.
You have referred to the "drivers" of proliferation? What might these drivers be in the case of Iran and North Korea?
It varies. The most important driver is a sense of insecurity. If a country feels insecure, they try to do whatever they can to protect themselves, to have the so-called 'shield'. Irrespective of the orientation of the regime, democracy, theocracy or authoritarian, everybody will do what it takes to protect themselves.
On the issue of 'drivers', they see nuclear weapons or sensitive technology like reprocessing as a way to achieve power and prestige. They look at the major players: they all have nuclear weapons. So, if you want to achieve power and prestige, the shortcut do that is to develop nuclear weapons…
You have agreed to a work plan with Iran to clarify outstanding issues about its nuclear programme. There's been some criticism against you for this. Do you believe that the Iranians will stick to their commitments?
On Iran, we have developed a work plan and I stand firmly by that work plan. This is at the heart of the work the (UN) Security Council asked us to do. We are in the process of implementing the work plan.
I hope that Iran understands that this is the key to test their intention to come clean about the past and enable us to clarify the present. We have gone out of our way to give them the benefit of the doubt.
As you said, there was a lot of criticism, that we are giving them too much time. We have been working on this for four-five years and it we are able to do that (implement the work plan) in two-three months it would be an absolutely significant development.
We should not forget that a good part of the distrust of the Iranian intention was triggered by these outstanding issues. If we were to resolve these outstanding issues, we would move forward in a very positive way.
If we are able to say that…all nuclear material in Iran and activities are under safeguards that would be a significant step in building confidence in the Iranian nuclear programme.
Iran, North Korea, Pakistan have all been treated differently by the international community. As far as the case of Dr AQ Khan in Pakistan goes, are you satisfied that his nuclear black market has been shut down?
We are satisfied that we have come to understand how the AQ Khan network was operating. We obviously have to be vigilant to make sure that there is no new, innovative network that emulates the AQ Khan network.
Pakistan has cooperated with us in providing us answers to questions we addressed to AQ Khan. I guess we would appreciate if we are allowed to have direct contact with Mr AQ Khan. But I should say that Pakistan went out of its way to help us in investigating the Libyan programme and the Iranian programme by answering the questions we addressed to them.
Each case is sui generis, but at the end of the day, I believe that if you want to resolve these issues, you have to go back to the root causes. Sure we need to deal with the symptoms, but we need to go into the 'why' of countries want to go into that route and address their security concerns.
We have to treat them with respect, we have to dialogue with them. To me, dialogue is the key. In North Korea, there was no dialogue for five years and North Korea developed a nuclear weapon and conducted a nuclear test.
Dialogue resumed with North Korea and now we see positive results. North Korea can be a model of how to deal with Iran. You can apply pressure, but to my mind there is no durable solution without all the parties sitting together, putting their grievances on the table and have face-to-face negotiations, trying to reconcile their differences.
That's the only way to move forward.
Looking at West Asia: Iraq, Iran and the unresolved Palestinian-Israeli question. What will happen there in the next few years?
This is the part of the world that gives me the most worries. I come from this part of the world, I am in contact with this part of the world. I see the agony, the pain, the humiliation, the frustration that exists in this part of the world.
The Arab world, the Muslim world feels humiliated, feels a sense of injustice. The major issue we need to resolve is the Palestinian issue. This continues to be a red flag for a sense of injustice. And, we need to address that issue…
I am happy that there will be a conference in the next month (on West Asia)…to me what we need in this part of the world is not weapons. What we need in this part of the world is education, good governance, respect for human rights, building civil society, nurturing democracy. In other words, integrating fully the whole 2 billion Muslims into the rest of the world.
I strongly believe that Islam, properly interpreted, is a religion based on the supreme core values of humanity - tolerance, social solidarity, work ethic. It is no different from other religions -- Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism - they all share the same core values.
If one religion is sometimes misinterpreted or hijacked, this is not a function of the religion. It's an expression of frustration.
If I have to prioritise right now, I would go for abolition of nuclear weapons as early as we can. For the first time I see hope there. You saw people like Henry Kissinger, George Schulz, Sam Nunn and Bill Perry, who were at the heart of the Cold War and nuclear deterrence, talk about the abolition of nuclear weapons because they see now the clear dangers of some of this material falling into the hands of extremists. This is a wake up call for me.
My number two priority is reaching out to the Muslim world, integrating the Muslim world, addressing the cause of humiliation and injustice that exists there, work on building a modern, moderate Muslim world and then move together as one family to achieve our human potential.