Mohamed ElBaradei 248 88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency downplayed Israel's concern over an Iranian nuclear threat on Wednesday, telling a New York audience, "Truth is in the eyes of the beholder."
Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, Mohamed ElBaradei spoke critically of nuclear weapons as a tool for power and prestige.
Denying that Iran has an ongoing nuclear program, he dismissed Israel's concerns.
"If you look from the Arab point of view, the Arabs are as concerned or more about the Israeli nuclear weapons program as the Israelis are about the Iranian's," he said.
The only solution, he said, "is to rid the whole Middle East from weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons," he said. "You cannot have a security system that is perceived to be imbalanced."
Reflecting on his years at the atomic watchdog agency, ElBaradei said bluntly that the current security system does not work.
"It's in tatters," he said. "I definitely say we could have done better."
He noted: "Many countries have decided we don't need to develop a nuclear weapon, it's enough to develop the capabilityâ€¦ That is a very intelligent and kosher way of doing it. You're sending a message to your neighbors, to the rest of the world, don't mess."
He cited nuclear terrorism as a major threat to world security.
"The major threat we are facing is not Iran, North Korea, but nuclear terrorism," he said.
ElBaradei came down harshly on sanctions as a means to addressing nuclear threats.
"We have tried sanctions," he said, and consequently seen the "egregious" violations of human rights that can occur when dictators make money off sanctions.
"Sanctions do not lead to solutions," he said.
Pressed during an audience question-and-answer period on Iran's flirtation with nuclear power, he said: "We have no concrete proof that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program."
Studies were stopped in 2003, he said. "While we have questions about this issue," he added.
He noted that Iran's flirtation with nuclear power was a "means to an end," since Iran wants to be recognized as a regional power.
"They believe the nuclear know-how brings prestige, power," he said. "They would like to see the US engaging them."
For that reason, he added, there is an opportunity to seriously engage in negotiations.
He cited the Vienna proposal under which Iran will give up its low-enriched uranium, and said, "I think it's very clear if we succeed on that, that will open the way to finally a new era when Iran and the US â€¦ .can work together and engage."
He dismissed any notion that bombing, or otherwise eradicating, nuclear weapons was a viable solution.
"If Iran were to be bombed, and that is really the question, is that a solution? I have been saying for many, many years this is no solution at all," he said.
It would delay the program for two years, he said, adding, "You cannot bomb knowledge."
But he said there was still room for the UN Security Council to use force in certain situations.
"I am not in any way suggesting there is no case where the Security Council shouldn't use force," he said, clarifying the point several minutes later. "All I'm saying, what I have seen is sanctions have not resolved issues."
At one point, he acknowledged, "I think I'm the most vilified person in the world."
Reflecting on past successes, he dismissed Libya as such.
"Frankly, much was made out of the Libyan success, more than it was," he said. "The Libyan program made no sense at all," so it was logical to dismantle.
"When I saw, it was all in warehouses in boxes. It was all incomplete equipment."