ElBaradei:Weapons Issues Could Have Been Resolved

Mohamad ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, discusses his new book, The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times," with Steve Inskeep.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And now let's go to a country thats finding out what comes after a revolution. Egypt is in the early stages of a presidential campaign. The candidates include Mohamed Elbaradei. For years, he was the chief nuclear watchdog at the United Nations. That work, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, is now the subject of his new memoir. It comes out even as he campaigns for president.

In what way, Mr. Elbaradei, are you working to build support right now -political support?

Dr. MOHAMAD ELBARADEI (Presidential Candidate, Egypt): Well, Im basically focusing, Steve, right now on making sure that we have a democratic infrastructure, a proper democratic constitution, a proper parliament, democratically elected, giving time for the parties to establish themselves after the Revolution, making sure that the presidential election will be, again, similarly democratic.

But at the same time, I'm talking to people, engaging people, telling them what the future of Egypt should look like. But my main focus, right now, is to make sure that everything is set for a new Egypt, if you like. Because I made it clear that I would only run if there is a proper democratic system in place.

INSKEEP: So it is not definite that you will run.

Dr. ELBARADEI: For now, I am running, but I'll have to keep my options open because if anything were to happen contrary to my conviction, then I do not want, obviously, to be part of the decor.

INSKEEP: Did you say don't want to be part of the decor?

Dr. ELBARADEI: Yeah.

INSKEEP: As you travel about, do you feel that Islamists are gaining more power and influence, day by day?

Dr. ELBARADEI: Well, I think they are, now, the only organized force, so they are gaining ground while the other parties - the parties of the young people and others who made the - triggered the Revolution - are just about starting their own parties. And that's also one of the reasons I believe that having the election in September is way too soon, because you would not have a level playing field at that time. The new parties are not yet fully engaged.

INSKEEP: Now, let me ask you about this book, which I'll mention is called "The Age of Deception," and it covers what I guess we can now think of as your previous life - running the International Atomic Energy Agency at a really momentous period, involving Iraq - U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Iran issue. You are working on issues relating to Libya, relating to North Korea.

And if I may, there seems to be a common theme of disappointment. You were disappointed in how almost all these situations turned out. What did those disappointments have in common?

Mr. ELBARADEI: All disappointments, Steve, have in common, that we never really looked at the big picture. There was always a sense of condescending on the part of the U.S., in particular, during the Bush administration, that these countries have to buckle under pressure where I know that they will not buckle under pressure because it has to do with their security. There were, in many cases, particularly in Iran, that demand that Iran should be completely undressed before the U.S. sit with them around the negotiating table. So I saw lots of conflict that had to do with war and peace that could happen easily resolve.

INSKEEP: You think the United States could have reached an agreement with this Iranian regime because, as you know, there are plenty of American foreign policy specialists, who are dubious that really the Iranians ever want an agreement.

Mr. ELBARADEI: Well I disagree with that at least with my experience. Of course there were a number of situations where they were bypassed by the U.S. insisting that Iran should not have one single centrifuge running, and that was obviously not realistic, Steve.

However, even we were very close during the Obama administration and Mr. Ahmadinejad personally was very much interested in having a comprised package with Iran. But again, unfortunately, that chance was lost because on the Iranian domestic situation people were in a payback mode after the election in Iran.

INSKEEP: Let me just clarify what you're saying here, though, because you're saying there were many missed opportunities because the Bush administration insists that Iran give up everything before talks began.

Mr. ELBARADEI: That's right.

INSKEEP: But then the Obama administration did talk with Iran, did seem to reach an agreement, at least with Iranian diplomats, and the Iranian government backed away from that agreement. Does that suggest that really there wasn't that much room to have a negotiation to begin with?

Mr. ELBARADEI: No, Iran was in the aftermath of the presidential election in Iran and it was...

INSKEEP: The disputed election, yeah.

Mr. ELBARADEI: And then Ahmadinejad was not able to go ahead with that agreement because his detractors were after him, saying he was selling the store, blah, blah, so he couldnt go forward with it. But by that time, the Obama administration was really had its hands, you know, full with domestic issues and could not engage Iran as they were able to six months before.

INSKEEP: Are you suggesting that after making an effort, which didn't work out very well in the early part of his administration, President Obama more or less forgot about Iran or was distracted by other issues and wasn't able to pay full attention.

Mr. ELBARADEI: I don't think he was distracted, but I think the domestic political situation did not give him the freedom, the elbow room, to be able to negotiate with Iran.

INSKEEP: Is the non-proliferation system, that has been designed for decades to prevent more nations from getting nuclear weapons, broken?

Mr. ELBARADEI: Yeah, it is broken I think, Steve. You know, this is with a system that was built in 1970. Lots of things happened in the last 40 years. Lots of countries now have that ability to develop nuclear weapon or have the know-how to develop nuclear weapons. So the weapon states need to send the message loud and clear; and not just a message, but act on it, walk the walk, that they are moving towards a world free from nuclear weapons. If you are not going to do that, in the long term, you cannot have a system of security based on nuclear haves and nuclear-have nots. The system of security, based on nuclear deterrence, is an absolute way to self-destruct.

INSKEEP: Mohammed ElBaradei is the author of "The Age of Deception." And he is also, at least for now, a presidential candidate in Egypt. Thanks very much.

Mr. ELBARADEI: Thank you very much, Steve, for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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