Global Policy Forum

El Baradei Campaign Potentially Dangerous: Expert


By Eleanor Hall

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
December 13, 2004

ELEANOR HALL: One US expert on the global spread of nuclear weapons warns the Bush administration's campaign against Mr El Baradei is potentially dangerous not only for the United States diplomatically, but for international nuclear security.

Joseph Cirincione is the Director of proliferation studies at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. He's also a former national security advisor to the US House of Representatives, and he spoke to me a short time ago from Washington.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Well this kind of campaign is very ill-considered and is likely to backfire on the United States. It's unfortunately become all too typical of a kind of aggressive, even bullying, style the Bush administration has in trying to get international organisations to agree with their points of view. I think it's directed at the wrong person at the wrong time.

ELEANOR HALL: And what are the potential risks for the Bush administration of a campaign like this?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Well, first you're targeting an individual who most of the members of the IAEA believe has done a very good job and wants him to remain in the post, particularly when we're talking about problematic problems in Muslim states, it's really perfect to have a diplomat of El Baradei's experience and ethnic origin managing these issues.

He speaks softly, but he acts very strongly. And in the case of Iraq for example, his assessment of the Iraqi nuclear program was more accurate than the US position. He urged caution, said the evidence wasn't there to support these charges, the UN intelligence turned out to be better than the US intelligence which as we know was completely wrong. So the risk that the US has here is isolating the US, not El Baradei as it tries to convince other nations to back them in a campaign that as far as I know no other country actually agrees with.

ELEANOR HALL: So why is the Bush administration so opposed to him?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: It is trying, and it's frustrated, because it's trying to impose a strong, united position against Iran.

The Americans' position says no to negotiation, yes to forceful efforts to try and get Iran to give up its uranium enrichment program, and it believes that if it could just get rid of some of these, appeasers or vacillators that then it would have an easier time convincing other countries to go along. But that is actually not the problem. There's no one who wants to appease, or rather few, who want to appease Iran. The question is how do you get Iran to do it, and most countries, including most European, most Asian nations see a diplomatic solution as preferable to any kind of force or sanction at this time, or certainly not military action.

ELEANOR HALL: Some of the White House officials do appear to be saying that they see Mr El Baradei as biased. How important is the position as head of the IAEA, how important is it that it be independent?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Well, it's extremely important. He's the point person for the IAEA. We depend on other countries cooperating with this international organisation. You have to have an international inspector, a sort of a nuclear detective agency that is seen as fair and objective, and that is welcomed into other countries, or at least allowed into other countries. It's not going to work if you undermine that agency's independence or if that agency has come to be seen as just a tool of US foreign policy.

ELEANOR HALL: Isn't there equally a danger though, if the US administration doesn't regard the head of the nuclear watchdog as independent?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Well, this is what happens when you have a foreign policy that believes that force or resolve is more important than consensus. That can work in the short run, it can work in some particular emergency cases, but it can't possibly sustain you in a world of complex and multi-lateral as the one we live in.

ELEANOR HALL: And what do you make of the Bush administration's approach to Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Well, certainly asking Mr Downer to serve in that role is perfectly reasonable. What's not reasonable is asking him to be the US surrogate here in an effort to oust a popular and very effective existing director, so Mr Downer was wise to decline this role. It wouldn't have served his or Australia's interests.

Joseph Cirincione is the Director of proliferation studies at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. His most recent book is Deadly Arsenals: Tracking weapons of Mass Destruction.

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