Who's to blame?
At a Cairo conference, Mohamed El-Baradei was criticised for his role in nuclear inspections in Iraq, while Israel remains free of blame. The IAEA director-general argued his case. Aziza Sami reports
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El-Baradei, flanked by Dean Kamal El-Menoufi and CSDC's El-Sayed, addressing a sceptical audience at Cairo University photo: Kamal El-Garnousi
Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed El-Baradei met with the Egyptian public for the first time since the onset of the Iraq war, when he gave lectures at Cairo University and the American University in Cairo last week.
The address delivered to the packed main lecture hall of Cairo University's Faculty of Economics and Political Science was titled "The Role of the International Atomic Agency in Attaining Peace and Development". Hosted by Cairo University's Centre for the Study of Developing Countries (CSDC), the meeting instigated a heated discussion with the audience on the question of double standards, and whether these have determined the manner in which the IAEA carries out nuclear arms inspections, targeting certain countries and turning a blind eye to others.
El-Baradei countered allegations that the IAEA has succumbed to the disproportionate influence wielded by the US and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He asserted that such questions are based on an "erroneous reading, or ignorance of the facts", cautioning that they incite unwarranted suspicion of the IAEA.
CSDC's Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed quickly laid on the table the contentious issues at the onset of the meeting. He questioned whether "joining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by some countries and not others has caused a dysfunction. At a time when Israel -- which has not signed the treaty -- possesses nuclear arms, Egypt, which has, is not even able to construct nuclear reactors for peaceful purposes." El- Sayed contended that "those who join the treaty are rewarded with punitive measures, while those who do not are absolved and allowed to engage in nuclear blackmail, as is the case of Israel and Pakistan." He pointed out the discrepancy of "having Iraq and Iran induced into submitting to inspections, while Israel's file remains suspended".
El-Baradei, who since the build-up to the war on Iraq has consistently projected the persona of the impartial technocrat, strongly criticised what he described as the Arab countries' "emotive and non-realistic approach" to the issue of Israel's nuclear disarmament.
He said that "the door has been closed [on the question of nuclear armament] by the international community manifest in UN Security Council's [resolution]". Reiterating a call he had recently made in opinion articles published in the Western press, the IAEA director-general asserted that a "strategic dialogue" between the Arab countries and Israel is incumbent "today [rather than] tomorrow". He said that "opportunity [was] lost" when clauses on nuclear disarmament were not included in either the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, or the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.
He stressed that "Israel sees that it cannot give up its weapons of mass destruction [WMD] in the absence of comprehensive peace, as long as there are countries or individuals that say that it will be 'thrown into the sea', and that its existence is not recognised in the region."
El-Baradei lambasted what he described as the backward "state of development" of the Arab countries, and the prevalent attitudes of constant "self-victimisation" and "always asking the attainment of peace from others instead of working towards achieving it ourselves". The Arab countries have yet to create a "civilisational project allowing them to attain the necessary balance of interests needed to persuade Israel that it is in its interest to disarm", El-Baradei said. "We must see how we can convince Israel that it is in its interest to have a Middle East free of WMD. After the events of Libya and Iran, it is time to start this strategic dialogue."
The questions directed to the IAEA director from the hall after his speech were almost unanimously critical of the role which the IAEA is currently playing in nuclear inspections. The applause accompanying such questions appeared to reflect an already formed public opinion that the IAEA -- despite its professed neutrality -- was used as a pawn to rationalise the war on Iraq. Comments also underlined the fact that Iran is being singled out for inspections, within the context of its current political ostracisation by the US.
A question was posed to El-Baradei by Gamal Zahran, a professor of political science, as to why he did not resign when the US-led war on Iraq was launched. Zahran cited a report published in the daily Al-Ahram, prior to the war on Iraq, quoting El-Baradei saying he would resign if an "illegitimate war" was launched on Iraq. El-Baradei said that this was "a mistranslation of an interview I had given to the German magazine Der Speigel. The resignation of an individual is always a possibility, contingent on whether one feels at any point that his work is not aiding in the attainment of peace."
Prominent nuclear expert Fawzi Hammad raised the question of alleged intervention by the US in the work of the IAEA. He said that "after the occupation of Iraq the IAEA was asked to undertake inspections there but it was the US which made them." Hammad added that the same happened in the case of Libya, "where many of the inspections were undertaken by US and British inspectors, with the role of the IAEA apparently much more minimal than it should be. Is this a new phenomenon we are witnessing in the world? Is it the US which will now undertake the role of nuclear inspections?"
El-Baradei responded that "the IAEA's jurisdiction in Iraq is ongoing", adding that he has recommended that the agency return to Iraq for inspections. However, while "the [US-UK] coalition does not debate this, it says it is a question of timing, and I disagree with them on this matter." El-Baradei added that in the case of Libya, the IAEA carried out all of the inspections, with the participation of neither the US nor Britain. "After our work was finished, in agreement with Libya, we had instruments transported to the US," he said.
Nabil Fouad, a strategy expert, questioned how El-Baradei can be running an agency which is "controlled by the US". He added that "as was published and read by everyone, some of the inspectors [working in Iraq], including some heads of committees, were working on direct orders from the CIA. They might even have been coordinating results with the CIA first, and then reporting them to you."
El-Baradei said that such comments "incite public opinion and raise unfounded suspicions. What makes me sorry is that there is no careful reading of the facts." He said that the inspectors found to be cooperating with the CIA "were not the IAEA's inspectors" but those on the UN inspections committee, which was later replaced by the Security Council. "The IAEA had only one case of violations in this respect. I was running this agency in all neutrality, and there was no intervention that I know of."
While conceding that arms inspections in Iraq were not given sufficient time prior to the onset of the US-led war on Iraq, El-Baradei asserted that "if there are double standards in the manner in which nuclear inspections are carried out, then it is the international system which is to blame, not the IAEA, which is an executive body implementing international law."
He added that since Iran, Libya and North Korea are members of the non-proliferation treaty, "it is within my jurisdiction to make sure that their programmes conform to the treaty. Israel and Pakistan, on the other hand, are not members. If they join the treaty, then I will be happy [to carry out inspections there]."