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(photo credit: AP [file])
The International Atomic Energy Agency has found no "smoking gun" in Iran that would indicate a nuclear weapons program, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the IAEA, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. At the same time, however, he acknowledged that, until three years ago, Teheran maintained an undeclared nuclear program for 18 years, which the IAEA failed to detect.
ElBaradei said there was now "lots of speculation" about an Iranian drive to nuclear weapons capability. But "we try to work on the basis of facts," he said. And the facts, he said in response to a question from the Post, were that "we haven't seen a smoking gun in Iran. We haven't seen an underground production enrichment facility. We haven't seen enough materials in Iran, other than gram quantities, to put into a weapon."
Asked about Israel's concerns over a nuclear-armed Iran, and the issue of whether Israel might have to resort to force as a last resort to thwart Iran going nuclear, ElBaradei made no direct comment about the use of force. He stressed, however, that the IAEA sought to continue "to work through our verification [process], through our diplomacy."
Elbaradei was answering questions after giving a speech entitled "Reflections on Nuclear Challenges Today" at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. In that address, he said he hoped his agency would be able to reach definitive conclusions about the nature of Iran's nuclear program within a year.
ElBaradei, who along with the IAEA received this year's Nobel peace prize, said his agency had spent the past three years filling in the "puzzle" of Iran's long-concealed program. "We have done a lot of the work," and found "most of the pieces" of the puzzle, he said, but there were still "a number of open questions" about that program, which had relied heavily on black market supplies.
More transparency and pro-active cooperation was required from Teheran to "clear" its past. For instance, he said, the IAEA needed access to military sites, the right to interview key people, and to see certain vital documents.
In a talk in which he set out a phased program which could reduce the global nuclear threat if there were sufficient international support, he nonetheless presented a stark reality of widening proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology, clandestine procurement networks and "sluggishness" in nuclear disarmament. Given the scale of the threats and the deficient international will to counter them effectively, he said, "One may legitimately ask whether we are a world in denial."
Having acknowledged the IAEA's failure to detect Iran's nuclear energy program more rapidly, he noted that the agency was immensely hampered by a tiny budget of just $120 million per year. With these "shoestring" resources, it was nevertheless expected to "oversee approximately 900 nuclear facilities in 71 countries. We are only as effective as we are allowed to be," he said.
In answering the Post's questions, he said "Iran might have the capacity to enrich uranium if it starts the enrichment facilities there. But that's where the international community asks Iran to reconsider, or at least to continue to suspend enrichment, because that brings Iran close [to a nuclear weapons capability]." There was no urgent reason for Iran to lift that suspension of the enrichment process, he said, and so long as the suspension remained in force there would be an opportunity for a negotiated solution.