ElBaradei leaves nuclear watchdog with legacy of honesty, Iran leniency
Mohamed ElBaradei stepped down from his post at the UN nuclear watchdog IAEA at the end of November. He's been seen both as an honest broker and as being too soft on Iran.
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To ElBaradei's critics, who have resurfaced in the current Iran crisis, the diplomat has gone far beyond the mandate of the head of a technical agency. He's been criticized for playing down Iran's nuclear program, for creating too high a threshold of provability, for allowing Iran to "buy time," and for creating tension inside the agency between those responsible for safeguards and verification and himself, as a Nobel Prize-winning interlocutor with a vision of peace, but who operates in secrecy to avoid being blind-sided or becoming a yes man.Skip to next paragraph
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"The director general thinks if he tells the unvarnished truth, there will be a war," says a Western diplomat in Vienna. "So he soft-pedals the information. The problem is, it isn't his job to play supreme arbiter; it is his job to report."
"Why do we never know when IAEA reports are coming out? Because the safeguards people are fighting with the director general," says the diplomat.
Did ElBaradei act too slowly on Iran?
The critique became so pervasive in the past year that Mr. Amano, who has served for a year as head of the IAEA board of governors, quietly ran for his new position as someone who would return the agency to its core mission. A central question for Amano is whether he will strengthen the safeguard component of the IAEA – and push to require something called "additional protocols," a system of vigorous, transparent, and unannounced inspections anywhere in a member country. Under ElBaradei, the protocols were voluntary – allowing states like Iran to balk.
Amano, in his speech to the IAEA governors ahead of his vote, vowed to carry the nonproliferation torch, commenting that this was appropriate since he comes "from a country that has the experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
"You can't strengthen safeguards applied around the world if you are carrying as much baggage as ElBaradei is today," says David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington, which closely monitors the IAEA and analyzes its reports. "He's made too many tough statements that haven't been followed up. The new guy can take a stance for safeguards among countries that have cheated."
In the view of verification and safeguards advocates, and some Western diplomats, ElBaradei is caught in a complex diplomatic game that has dulled his core instincts as a verification guy. In this view, he has stopped acting with the urgency of an IAEA director.
Speaking of Iran's newly revealed centrifuge site at Qom, brought to light by France, the US, and Britain, says Mr. Albright: "He [ElBaradei] was told about Qom by three member states. He should have said, 'We want in now. We want special inspections.' He should have worked it. But days went on, and there was nothing. Finally, it took the P-5 [the permanent members of the UN Security Council] to negotiate access."
Defenders say that ElBaradei is responding to the reality of an Iran that is fast becoming a nuclear state, and that he has been in a unique position to negotiate based on his understanding and contacts. As he argued on "Charlie Rose," "The Middle East is in a total mess right now. And it is becoming gradually radicalized.… Iran, I think, is the gate to – hopefully – a beginning of stability of the Middle East…. When you engage a regime … that's how you change behavior. There [are] a lot of activities by Iran [that] people disapprove of, but [change] is not going to happen by not talking to them." •