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Paul Jay talks with Gustavo Zlauvinen, an IAEA Representative to United Nations about effectiveness of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) and the possibilities of achieving the world without nuclear weapons.

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, coming to you from New York City. And we’re at the United Nations. We’re now talking to Gustavo Zlauvinen, who is the New York representative for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So, just to be clear, you represent Mohamed ElBaradei in New York to the UN.

ZLAUVINEN: Correct. Correct.

JAY: Which has been rather a hot seat for the IAEA over the last few years.

ZLAUVINEN: I shall say, yes, yes.

JAY: Speaking of hotseat, your boss, ElBaradei, said in the last few days to The Independent newspaper that the Nonproliferation Treaty needs to be completely overhauled, that there’s the possibilities of its unraveling. And partly what he’s saying and partly what I’m saying about why it’s unraveling, he highlights the issue of there’s many countries that may get into the position of being just pre-nuclear-weaponized, where you get the technology up to a point where you’re only months away without actually making the leap. And he’s saying that if the currently armed countries that have weapons stockpiles don’t really disarm, then what’s the reason for these other countries not to get into that position? And then the second part of it, which I think is connected, which is when you have countries—and, obviously, the most outstanding example is Israel, who everyone knows has nuclear weapons, is not part of the NPT, how do you say to other countries in the Middle East and in the region, “Well, you shouldn’t go nuclear, because it’s going to start an arms race”? So speak about these issues.

ZLAUVINEN: Sure. I mean, we have to be begin from the beginning, in the sense that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was negotiated, like, 40 years ago. And, obviously, the circumstances and the situations 40 years ago were dramatically different from today’s, in the sense that when the treaty was negotiated by the US and the Soviet Union, they were thinking of how to control countries like Germany and Japan, with industrial and and technical capabilities to produce nuclear weapons, from acquiring nuclear weapons. They never thought, not even in their wildest dreams, that maybe a bunch of—30 countries, from Brazil to my own country, Argentina, to South Africa, Iran, that at the time were so primitive in the development of these technologies would ever be in a position to develop nuclear weapons. So they didn’t pay attention to that problematic, because they were not facing with that. And, therefore, the legalities of the treaties were formed in a way to control those countries—as I mentioned before, Japan and Germany and the likes. But the way to entice all the others just to get into the treaty (because what would be the benefit, in the sense that they were not being considered at the time as potential proliferators, and why should they be part of the treaty?) was given by the big powers, in the sense that if you join the treaty, if you commit yourself not to ever acquire nuclear weapons, you’re going to benefit from the transfer of nuclear technologies, not only for the production of electricity, but also implication of medicine, agriculture, water management, and so forth. So most countries in the world ratified the Nonproliferation Treaty under that understanding.

JAY: Including Iran.

ZLAUVINEN: Including Iran. Including Iran.

JAY: Which, under the treaty, has the right to develop nuclear energy for civilian purposes.

ZLAUVINEN: For peaceful purposes, provided that it’s under the control of my own organization. So we are the—how do you say–the arbitrary, you know, just elements, in the sense that we’re receiving of the mandate from the treaty, and then we have to see how countries party to the treaty implement their obligations. Now, our legal inspection rights are very narrow-minded, because they were drafted 40 years ago. So what we do is we go and inspect those nuclear facilities that the countries themselves have declared. So beyond those three, four, five, or ten nuclear facilities per country declared by the governments, we have no right to wander around and knock doors and go to another facility, civilian or non-civilian, and say, hey, we got a tip saying that you may be doing some nuclear activities in this facility. We have no right to do so.

JAY: Of course. Of course, going back to Iraq, there were a lot of tips, and you knocked on doors, and there was nothing there.

ZLAUVINEN: Sure, but remember Iraq was an exceptional case in the sense that those, you know, inspections, you know, rights—and I was part of that team that—you know, for several years we went around Iraq—were imposed on Iraq because Iraq was defeated in a war, 1991. And that’s why Saddam Hussein was forced to accept all this unimpeded access, unrestricted access. And you correctly pointed out, even with that unrestricted access, it was almost impossible to find where the weapons were. Yes? And it was a cat-and-mouse, you know, game for many, many years. But in all the other countries, with the exception of Iraq, we have very limited inspection rights. So we have to maximize, you know, our abilities to detect, you know, some violations, using that narrow approach. Now, back to the NPT, remember that the other element of the equation was that the big powers committed themself to get rid of nuclear weapons eventually. And that’s why most countries in the world also got into the treaty, saying, well, we have to support that process. And, obviously, everyone wanted to have a world free of nuclear weapons. The question is, through the years, some of the big countries have relinquished or not pay attention to that obligation from the NPT.

JAY: Not only that, but most of them are still building new nuclear—have new programs.

ZLAUVINEN: Exactly. Or, for example, you know, just increasing the relevance of nuclear weapons in their military doctrines. Now, recently, President Obama, in a speech in Prague, announced his call, his vision for a world free of nuclear weapons. And he met after that with the Russian president, Medvedev, and they agreed to work together towards that goal. Now, realistically, it’s not going to happen today, it’s not going to happen tomorrow, nor next year. As President Obama correctly pointed out, he said it may not happen during our lifetime, but it’s something that we have to start working today. And just this morning, Senator McCain endorsed President Obama’s vision of how to work towards a world without nuclear weapons. And Mr. McCain correctly pointed out that that was a vision that President Reagan 30 years ago already has endorsed. So it’s nothing new. The question is how you use that concept 30 years ago, that you put in a realistic, you know, scenario and say, how can we work together toward that goal? And, obviously, some pieces of the equation are, you know, faltering, as you correctly pointed out, and my own director general say that the whole regime is faltering. Obviously, the fact that you just saw India, Pakistan, and Israel, they’re not part of this treaty, is not helpful.

JAY: Well, President Obama said in the last few days, and he said often, in relation to Iran and the region, that there has to be some measures taken to stop a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. But he won’t talk about Israeli nuclear weapons. And how can you have that conversation unless you acknowledge they’re there and, one way or the other, pressure Israel to come under the NPT?

ZLAUVINEN: Sure. If you read carefully, the Obama administration has changed that policy in a very subtle manners. Three weeks ago in New York, it was the preparatory committee of the review conference of the Nonproliferation Treaty. And in the first statement by the US delegation and under President Obama, they made references to Israel, calling Israel, as well as the others, even in Pakistan, to disarm. So it was the first time that, at least indirectly, you know, the Obama administration will say, well, Israel has nuclear weapons, and also they should disarm. I believe that it’s a policy that is going to be changing, in the sense that Washington may be just just putting, you know, more pressure on Israel to do something about that. Obviously it’s not a situation conducive for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, and they have to do something. Obviously it’s not something that is going to change overnight, and it’s had to be taken into account in the overall security context of the Middle [East] peace process.

JAY: Well, if you listen to the Israelis, there’s not 20 or 30 years, because they’re threatening attacks on Iran now. So in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about what is the view of the IAEA towards the nuclear program in Iran, and what do you make of the Israeli threats. Please join us for the next segment of this interview on The Real News Network.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Gustavo R. Zlauvinen, of Argentina, is the Representative of the Director General of the IAEA to the United Nations and as Director of the IAEA Office at United Nations Headquarters, New York.

Mr. Zlauvinen joined the Argentine Foreign Service in 1986. Upon graduating from the Diplomatic Academy, he served in various capacities in Buenos Aires, Vienna and New York. From 1987 to 1989, he served with the General Directorate for Disarmament and Nuclear Affairs at the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs; from 1989 to 1990, he was a member of the Argentine Commission on the Control of Military Equipment Exports; and, from 1990 to 1991, he was Director of International Relations of the Argentine Space Agency (CNIE), in Buenos Aires.