Also in Davos, Mohamed ElBaradei, the controversial director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), sat down with NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth to defend his record. Several Bush administration officials as well as some nonproliferation experts claim ElBaradei soft-pedaled criticisms of Iran's nuclear program in order to avoid justifying a U.S. military attack on that country. ElBaradei disagrees. Excerpts:
Weymouth: In retrospect, do you think you allowed Iran to push the limits?
ElBaradei: This is a complete misunderstanding. We have done as much as we can do in Iran to make sure that we understand the history and the present status of their [nuclear] program, to try to push them as far as we can, within our authority, to come clean. The idea people have that we are God, that we are able to cross borders, open doors … We don't have that [kind of] authority.
Iran has a technical aspect and a political aspect. The technical aspect is our part of the job. The political aspect is the dialogue to build confidence and trust. I have said for the past six years that the policy of building trust between the West—the United States in particular—and Iran has failed completely. We haven't moved one iota.
What do you mean exactly?
You're not going to have trust unless you have a direct dialogue. President Obama right now is saying he's ready to have a direct dialogue without preconditions, based on mutual respect. I say this is absolutely overdue.
You cannot … treat Iran like a donkey, with carrots and sticks. This is a competition for power in the Middle East.
Iran versus the West?
Well, it's a competition between Iran and the West … Iran wants to have its role as a regional security power recognized
… They see that if you have the technology that can allow you to develop a nuclear weapon in a short period of time, it gives you power, prestige and security … They heard from the previous administration talk about allocating funds for regime change, about an Axis of Evil, and if you were in their place, you would do everything you could to protect yourself. (Article continued below...)
Do you think there's a chance dialogue will work?
You have to try. It might not work, but I know the majority of the Iranian people want to have a normal relationship with the U.S., particularly the young people. They want to be part of the international community. If you don't talk, what do you get?
You were elected IAEA director with the support of the United States, and later Washington treated you quite badly.
It was during my third re-election when former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton initiated a campaign to block my re-election. They did not get one single country to stand against me, and in the end I was elected by consensus with U.S. support. You can disagree with the head of the international organization, but we are not there to implement the policies of one country. If an organization like IAEA is regarded as a broker for one country, it will be killed.
Experts say you've been quite tough on Iran since the National Intelligence Estimatein 2007.
We haven't changed. We have always been tough. What they don't like is, they say I speak outside of the box. In many cases, privately and in public, I have been telling them, you need to support me with your policy, and your policy is not working. Either you want a leader for an international institution or you want some technocrat. But if you have a technocrat, you will go nowhere.
People say you weren't tough enough on Syria for building a nuclear reactor.
I have been very harsh on Israel because they violated the rules of international law on the use of unilateral force, and they did not provide us with the information before the bombing [with] which we could have established whether Syria was building a nuclear reactor … Now we are doing our best to try to see what Syria was doing, but it's like Iran. I cannot jump the gun and say Syria was building a nuclear facility because what we are doing now is trying to verify what was there.
Why don't you criticize Syria and North Korea for building this facility?
Because we don't have the evidence. If I had had the evidence before the bombing, I could have done it in 24 hours.