By Mark LandlerNew York Times
February 1, 2005
His agency is heading into its third showdown in three years with a potential nuclear-weapons state, and the United States is trying to push him out of his job. But when Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, came to the annual conference of the World Economic Forum here this week, he behaved like someone who expected to be in the thick of the proliferation debate for some time.
In an interview, Dr. ElBaradei fleshed out his proposal for a five-year moratorium on building uranium-enrichment facilities, to stop the spread of atomic weapons to Iran or other countries. "The danger of proliferation has become much more real, much more imminent, and we cannot address it with business as usual," he said during a break from meetings with foreign ministers and American lawmakers. "We need to look into new tools we can use."
Under the plan, which Dr. ElBaradei will present at a conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in May, countries would be able to lease enriched fuel from an international consortium. That would enable them to operate nuclear reactors to generate electricity, without having to build facilities for energy purposes that could be converted to weapons production. "If you have the capability to develop that fissile material, you're not too far away from a weapon," he said. "This is too dangerous. We can do better in terms of minimizing the security risk."
Enriched uranium, a prime ingredient of nuclear weapons, is at the heart of the current dispute with Iran. The Iranian government has agreed to stop enriching uranium temporarily, as part of its negotiations with Britain, France and Germany. But Iran has rebuffed the Europeans' demand for a permanent ban, saying enrichment is an integral part of its nuclear energy program. Dr. ElBaradei said his plan had elements in common with a proposal by President Bush, who wants to ban exports of nuclear technology to all countries that do not submit to inspections that many of them consider intrusive. But Dr. ElBaradei said his proposal, by being applied to all countries and by guaranteeing access to nuclear fuel, stood a better chance of winning broad support. "To get everybody to agree, it would have to be a moratorium," he said. "You would have a number of countries overseeing each other, to make sure there is no misuse of the system."
During the five-year ban, the world could overhaul the rules governing the transfer of nuclear technology and material, he added. He said he foresaw a bigger role for the United Nations Security Council, as well as for inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Dr. ElBaradei said he was open to another proposal, by Mr. Bush in his antiproliferation initiative last year, to create a committee in the agency's 35-member governing board to speed the agency's response to crises like those that have been presented by disclosures about nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. "If the committee has an added value, I would welcome it," said Dr. ElBaradei, 62, an Egyptian diplomat.
Such words are not likely to smooth over his relationship with the White House, which views him as soft on so-called rogue countries. He has urged the United States to get involved in Europe's talks with Iran. He describes military action - an option left open by the Bush administration - as "really naí¯ve." "You need a good cop/bad cop in addressing every issue," Dr. ElBaradei said. "But the good cop/bad cop have to be on the same wavelength. They have to share the same objective."
The United States has lobbied other members of the agency's governing board to deny Dr. ElBaradei a third term. His second four-year term ends in the fall. An American diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States was invoking an informal agreement among several countries that directors of United Nations agencies should serve only two terms. Dr. ElBaradei said he had not spoken to Condoleezza Rice since her appointment as secretary of state. He did not meet with her new deputy, Robert B. Zoellick, who was in Davos. But he did chat with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who said in an interview later that Dr. ElBaradei deserved another term.
Dr. ElBaradei professed to be "fairly relaxed" about Washington's opposition, saying no other country had come out publicly against him. There are no other declared candidates for his post. "All I know is that an overwhelming majority wants me to continue to serve," he said, adding after a beat, "whether they will sacrifice their life for me, or whether they are just prepared to live with me."
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