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Gustavo Zlauvinen of the IAEA on Iran, Israel and nuclear weapons

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network, coming to you from New York City. And we’re at the United Nations. This is the second part of our interview with Gustavo Zlauvinen. He represents the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the United Nations. Thanks for joining us again.


JAY: Israel has made it very clear: they say Iran has or is about to have a nuclear weapon. They put it in the present tense, not the future. There is a lot of saber rattling about attacking Iran to stop the program. Today or yesterday, Barack Obama said that maybe Iran does have a right to some kind of nuclear energy program, which I don’t even understand why that’s a question, ’cause of the Nonproliferation Treaty—clearly they do have a right. But I guess the problem here now in Iran, but also many other countries, is that you can take the technology for nuclear energy up to a certain line and then it’s not that big a leap to nuclear weapons. And so I’m asking you a two-part question. Number one, is there any evidence, according to the IAEA that Iran actually has a weaponization program, a nuclear weaponization program? Have you found any evidence at all? Do you have any unanswered questions? So why don’t we start with that?

ZLAUVINEN: Sure. For many years, our inspector have been investigating the case of Iran nuclear programs. And we have to remember that for almost 20 years, until 2003, Iran conducted several activities in the nuclear field without disclosing them to my organization. So, technically, they were in violation of their obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty under agreement with our organization. That created a gap of confidence, not only from our organization but from the international community, in the sense that if Iran violated its obligations for 20 years, hit some of those activities, there might have been a reason, a political reason, why just to do it under cover. Now, since 2003, we have moved forward in the sense that we have come to understand much more of the past activities in Iran of the nuclear programs and the current status of the nuclear program of Iraq. We have been ticking off many of outstanding issues that come from the past. And the only one, a series of questions linked to one key issue that still lingers around, is the possible weaponization, you know, just elements of the programs. We have received some documentary evidence from other countries about alleged studies that Iran may have conducted in the past that, put them together, it would show that in intention to weaponize the nuclear program in Iran.

JAY: Now, is this the information that supposedly came off some Iranian laptop that somebody got a hold of?

ZLAUVINEN: This is, you know, one of the documents, exactly.

JAY: Because there’s a lot of question how realistic any of that information is. Like, there’s some recent reports that even Israeli intelligence may have been involved in this.

ZLAUVINEN: We have seen so many reports.

JAY: What do you make of it?

ZLAUVINEN: Obviously, I mean, look, our inspectors, you know, just look into this in a very detailed manner. They compared that and cross-examined these with many other information that we got gathered ourself and from other sources and came to the conclusion that is it’s a possibility that the documents or that, you know, piece of information, it may be, you know, just trustworthy. So in the sense that we cannot rule it out, and maybe it was fabricated by the others, but, you know, just prima facie, it looks something that requires a further investigation in the sense that we are taking it very seriously, and because if it’s true that Iran, at least in the past, or maybe in the present, is trying to weaponize, you know, their you nuclear programs, obviously that will be a serious violation of their obligations. Now, we cannot read intentions and we cannot read minds. If not, we would be in a different business. We would be making billions of dollars in other things. You know. But we cannot. And it’s not our business, into reading intentions. What we do, it’s an assessment of the capabilities as are presented to us in the field. And composed with many other sources of information that we get ourself and from others, altogether should represent a coherent picture of that program.

JAY: And your boss, ElBaradei, if I understand it correctly, has said on many occasions there is no evidence there’s a weaponization program.

ZLAUVINEN: But his latest report—and tomorrow is going to be a new report by ElBaradei, but I’m referring to his latest report in March this year—say that still the fact that Iran has not provided any evidence or documentations to deny the veracity of the alleged studies and has not come to a full cooperation with us to ascertain that there is not such a thing, you know, posed a big question mark on the nature of Iran nuclear programs, and that therefore he, ElBaradei, and my organizations, we are not in a position to declare that a nuclear program of Iran is for peaceful purposes or not, meaning that we cannot provide a judgment as of today. As long as that situation is, one can have an interpretation.

JAY: And what is it precisely you want the Iranians to give you that they haven’t given?

ZLAUVINEN: They have to prove that those alleged studies are false.

JAY: They’ve denied those studies are there, so how do you disprove a negative?

ZLAUVINEN: Through documentations.

JAY: But if the Iranians are telling the truth, if they are, and those aren’t their documents, then how do you have documents to prove they’re not your documents?

ZLAUVINEN: Sure, there are different ways that an inspector just come around, you know, this particular questions obviously, but in a sense when a country provides everything that they have, everything in their knowledge, and all the pieces fall together in the big, you know, just picture, our inspector will be comfortable to make an assessment, and they’re not. We are not in that position.

JAY: Well, their counterargument is that you’re pushing into an area that gets into non-nuclear weapons technology, like giving over documents to deal with their missile delivery systems, which they don’t owe you. Is that a legitimate counterargument on their part?

ZLAUVINEN: They have an obligation here, and obviously, to provide full cooperation to us, provide all the documentation that we are asking, and provide evidence if we, our inspectors, believe that it’s something that doesn’t much bother the official position. And this is the situation we are in today. Obviously it’s not easy. Obviously it’s almost like a detective inspection approach that we have to take. It’s painstaking. You have to double-cross and, you know, cross-relating to just many other elements. But, you know, as of today, we are not in a position to ascertain or provide any assurances of the true nature of Iran’s nuclear program. We’re not saying that they have nuclear weapons; we are not saying that they intend to have nuclear weapons; we’ll never be in a position just to say so. But there are some elements, at least coming from the past, that they don’t much, in our inspectors’ view, the official position of Iran, and that needs to be clarified.

JAY: What is so convincing the Israelis, if anything, about why the Israelis are practically ready to attack Iran? Have the Israelis shared information with you that’s in any way persuasive?

ZLAUVINEN: Israel, as any other country, and they have their own right just to make an assessment on Iran or any other country [inaudible].

JAY: But do you know of any intelligence they have that would change your mind about any of this?

ZLAUVINEN: You know, dealing with intelligence, you know, matters is very sensitive, in the sense that, you know, just most countries don’t share everything, not even among closest allies. So we shouldn’t expect, you know, members, say, like Israel or the US sharing everything with us. We don’t expect that. But, obviously, they share with us their concerns and their key elements of that concern. Obviously, we take those into account in our own investigation. Now, the key element, if you read into at least the public comments by the Israelis about that concern is based on what our inspectors are, you know, just verifying on the ground. Basically, they say that—and it’s correct to say—that today Iran has enriched more than 1,000 kilograms of uranium to a level of almost 5 percent. Now, from a technical point of view, if you look into a chemistry manual, they will show you that amount if were to be re-enrich, it would be enough to produce fissile material for one nuclear nuclear weapon. That is from a theoretical point of view, which is correct. From a technical point of view, it’s correct. Now, whether Iran has the intention to use that amount that are already enriched and it’s under the control of the IAEA, to take it away from us in another facility or in the same facility and to re-enrich enough just to produce one nuclear weapon, it’s a matter of speculation in the sense that it has not happened so far.

JAY: So in terms of the capability, as far as you know, for them to do that and then actually weaponize it and actually deliver it, do they have such capability?

ZLAUVINEN: We’re talking about the fissile material. And, yes, they have the amount that, if they were just to be re-enrich by the same technology they’re using in our presence or others, yes, technically, will be enough for fissile material for one nuclear weapon. But that’s the fissile material. That’s one element. Then you have the weaponization element, which is how just to put all the pieces of the device to be deployable.

JAY: In my understanding, ElBaradei told The Independent that they’re years away from being able to do this second part.

ZLAUVINEN: This is what I understand. But, again, I’m not privy of, you know, all the evidence and information that he may have. Obviously, that’s why he’s my boss and, obviously, you know, he has, you know, very confidential information. And if that is his view, that’s his view. But it was just—I’m talking about—just I’m limiting myself, you know, just to the first half of the question, which is, you know, capability to have fissile material. And that is correct in the sense that they already have enriched uranium at 5 percent or less than 5 percent, that if it were to be re-enriched, it will be enough almost for one nuclear weapon. Obviously, they continue to enrich more uranium, so, therefore, in a few months from now, in a year from now, instead of having 1,000 ton of enriched uranium, they may have 2,000 kilograms. It’s a matter of time.

JAY: Now is this also what the 5 percent enrichment is consistent with a civilian energy program as well?

ZLAUVINEN: Yes, correct.

JAY: If you want nuclear energy, this is what you’d be doing.

ZLAUVINEN: Most civilian nuclear reactors operate with a fuel of less than 5 percent enriched uranium, correct. And that’s why they’re using that argument to say that they want just to produce their own nuclear fuel. So if they had their nuclear reactor operational, then they’re going just to use that one instead of, you know, just buying from abroad that fuel. Correct.

JAY: So in the next segment of our interview, let’s talk about this issue that there are many countries who are moving towards this 5 percent level and who could be at that edge of going weaponized if they wanted to, and what can be done about that.


JAY: So please join us for the next segment of our interview with Gustavo Zlauvinen.


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.