-Taken from the Guardian
-Cairo - March 2010
-Read the full interview transcript here
The UN's former top nuclear watchdog said tonight that his cautious language in reports about Iran's nuclear programme was part of a deliberate policy to keep a lid on tensions and avert a rush to war.
Mohamed ElBaradei, who was director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency for 12 years before stepping down last November, pleaded with the international community to "learn the lessons" of the Iraq invasion and prevent further conflict in the Middle East.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, he said that despite its technical status, the IAEA's work was deeply politicised. "We are a technical organisation totally embedded in a political setting," said ElBaradei, "and we have to be aware of the background and political implications of our work."
ElBaradei, who was jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize in 2005 along with the IAEA, has been criticised by some for allegedly toning down agency reports on the threat posed by Iran.
A report earlier this year – the first under the stewardship of ElBaradei's successor, Yukiya Amano – was noted for its blunter language concerning Iran's nuclear programme, prompting some to accuse ElBaradei of concealing facts.
"It is now clear that … ElBaradei was engaged in what may well prove to be the most lethal cover-up in human history," said one Forbes magazine columnist following the report's publication.
ElBaradei denied any cover-up had taken place, but acknowledged he believed he had a duty to frame agency reports in a way that could not be exploited by those seeking war. "When I was working at the agency we would literally go through 30 drafts or so of each report before it was ready, because I knew every word could be used politically and in a very subjective way," he said. "Every word was weighed to make sure that it was immune from being abused, and I always wanted to make sure that we were not overstating or understating, but rather just stating the facts."
He rejected suggestions this amounted to undue political interference in the agency's work. "I think the tone was set by me, that's true," he said. "But all the facts were in every report, unvarnished."
ElBaradei's cautious reports are in contrast to the title of his memoirs, Crawling Away From Armageddon, which will be published in the autumn.
The book is expected to reveal details of ElBaradei's private conversations with US officials, with whom he fought in vain to avoid a US-led invasion of Iraq. "I would hope that the lessons of Iraq, both in London and in the US have started to sink in," he told the Guardian. "Sure there are dictators, but are you ready every time you want to get rid of a dictator to sacrifice a million innocent civilians?"
ElBaradei went on to praise Barack Obama for adopting a different approach from the Bush administration.
"I believe that the IAEA has a role not only to do inspections and verification, but also to work with the different parties to find solutions," he said.
"And I don't think there's any solution to any of these issues of insecurity except through meaningful dialogue. I left the agency a very happy man when I saw that this approach has been adopted by Barack Obama."