New York Times: Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, said it was his “gut feeling” that Iran’s leaders wanted the technology to build nuclear weapons “to send a message to their neighbors, to the rest of the world: ‘Don’t mess with us.’ ”
The New York Times
By ALAN COWELL
Published: June 18, 2009
PARIS — Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, said it was his “gut feeling” that Iran’s leaders wanted the technology to build nuclear weapons “to send a message to their neighbors, to the rest of the world: ‘Don’t mess with us.’ ”
He spoke in a BBC interview broadcast Tuesday and Wednesday as protesters took to the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities, demanding that last Friday’s disputed election result be overturned and confronting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with the leadership’s biggest domestic challenge since the Islamic Revolution three decades ago.
Dr. ElBaradei has made similar points in the past, officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency, of which he is director general, said Wednesday, but his latest remarks were less hedged with diplomatic caveats than previously.
Dr. ElBaradei, whose term of office is to expire in November, said in the interview that countries in possession of nuclear weapons were treated differently from others, citing the example of North Korea, which was invited to negotiations while Iraq under Saddam Hussein — which did not have a nuclear capacity — was “pulverized.”
“It is my gut feeling that Iran would like to have the technology to enable it to have nuclear weapons,” Dr. ElBaradei said in the interview at the organization’s headquarters in Vienna.
“They want to send a message to their neighbors, to the rest of the world, ‘Don’t mess with us,’ ” he said, urging outside powers to engage with Iran to remove the incentive for making a bomb.
He said he believed that Iran’s “ultimate aim” was to be “recognized as a major power in the Middle East.”
Nuclear weapons technology, he said, was “the road to get that recognition, to get that power and prestige.
“It is also an insurance policy against what they have heard in the past about regime change.”
Iran has publicly acknowledged that it is expanding its program to enrich uranium, a potential precursor to building a bomb, but it denies that it is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, saying its enrichment program is for civilian purposes. Mr. Ahmadinejad insists that Iran is entitled to develop its nuclear program.
The disputed election result has deepened concerns in the region about the Iranian nuclear program. In Israel, which has hinted that it may carry out a military strike on Iran to disable its nuclear equipment, officials said soon after the announcement of the election results that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s victory underscored the threat from Tehran and the need for a tough response rather than patient diplomacy.
But Arab diplomats and political analysts said that they did not believe that Iran would change its nuclear policy regardless of who won the election — Mr. Ahmadinejad or Mir Hussein Moussavi, the main opposition candidate who says the election was so flawed that its result should be annulled to make way for a new vote.
But administration officials in Washington have said it is not clear that Mr. Moussavi would be any more flexible about Iran’s nuclear ambitions than Mr. Ahmadinejad has been.