Atomic Energy head says U.S. pursues split policy on nuclear arms

Associated Press
Friday, November 05, 2004

STANFORD, Calif. - The U.N.'s chief nuclear arms inspector criticized the Bush administration's handling of nuclear weapons issues, saying the United States pursues a "good guys versus bad guys" approach that encourages proliferation.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said the U.S. occupation of Iraq has cost the nation and the United Nations credibility and said it has done little for ordinary Iraqis.

"Perhaps it is the Iraqi people who have lost the most," he said during a speech Thursday at Stanford University. "They have had still more misery brought on by the ravages of war and the unforeseen and extended period of insurgency and civil disorder."

ElBaradei spoke two days after submitting his annual report to the U.N. General Assembly, in which he urged Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and called on North Korea to dismantle its weapons program or allow inspections.

Both countries, in addition to Iraq, are part of what President Bush has called an "axis of evil."

In an interview before the speech with the San Francisco Chronicle, ElBaradei said he had found no proof that Iran was developing nuclear weapons, contrary to Bush administration warnings.

The Bush administration, which has often been at odds with ElBaradei, has been pressing the atomic energy agency to declare Iran in violation of its treaty obligations and to send the case to the Security Council, where economic sanctions could be imposed.

ElBaradei said that often-bogus intelligence information about Saddam Hussein's alleged arsenal before the Iraq war had made him look closely at information given by Western intelligence agencies.

"What I do not want is disinformation," he told the Chronicle. "There's a difference between robust inspection and harassment, and I do not want to end up in a situation where I'm continuously harassing a country based on misinformation."

In his speech, ElBaradei said the United States and U.N. Security Council had practiced double standards in enforcing nuclear weapons inspections, an approach that has encouraged nations to build weapons secretly.

He said the council had "little to no response" as North Korea built nuclear arms.

He also addressed a more fundamental question - whether all non-nuclear nations should be prevented from developing nuclear weapons or only those nations that the West viewed as hostile.

ElBaradei called the U.S. policy a "good guys versus bad guys' approach that inevitably leaves some nations seeking to achieve parity."

He said the arms race could be slowed if the United States and its allies implemented the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which would halt all nuclear weapons testing.

He also suggested renegotiating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to stop countries from developing the capabilities for enriching uranium. Nations can now do it to generate electricity, but ElBaradei called these "latent weapons programs" because they can quickly be transformed into factories for making the highly enriched uranium or plutonium needed for nuclear weapons.

Many developing nations that rely on nuclear power, such as Brazil and Vietnam, oppose any limits on their right to enrich uranium.

"In my view, we have come to a fork in the road," ElBaradei said in his speech to Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation. "Either there must be a demonstrated commitment to move toward nuclear disarmament, or we should resign ourselves to the fact that other countries will pursue a more dangerous parity through proliferation."

Last week, administration officials announced that the United States would oppose ElBaradei's bid for a third term heading the atomic energy agency.