- Nov 22, 2003
Secretary of State ElBaradei
The U.N. arms inspector goes soft on Iran, but hard on Congress.
Thursday, October 26, 2006 12:01 a.m.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, is supposed to be the Jack Webb of the nuclear nonproliferation scene, a "just the facts" man who reports his findings to his political superiors in the U.N. Security Council. Lately, however, he's been sounding more like the real life Jimmy Carter than the fictional TV detective.
"I don't think sanctions work as a penalty," Mr. ElBaradei opined after meeting with Condoleezza Rice on Monday. The director general was talking about North Korea, of whose leaders he took the forgiving view that they are testing nuclear weapons because "they feel isolated, they feel they are not getting the security they need." As for Iran, "the jury is still out on whether they are developing a nuclear weapon." However, he was quite certain that "at the end of the day, we have to bite the bullet and talk to North Korea and Iran." No doubt Condi was grateful for this free public chiding.
Leave aside for now the substance of Mr. ElBaradei's policy views; at stake here is the question of whether the IAEA can be trusted to be "continuously objective and impartial," words the director general has used elsewhere to describe his organization. That's also the line he took when he was lobbying in 2005 for an unprecedented third term against the opposition of then Undersecretary of State John Bolton, keeping the job after Ms. Rice and the White House acquiesced while asking Mr. ElBaradei to be tough on Iran.
These assurances look disingenuous now that Mr. ElBaradei is offering confident judgments, well above his pay grade, about Kim Jong Il's motives--and cautious ones about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's. It's even harder to believe given the selective leaks and political hits the IAEA has recently practiced against the Bush Administration and its allies in Congress.
Consider a recent imbroglio between Mr. ElBaradei and Pete Hoekstra, Chairman of the House's Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In the last year, and initially with bipartisan agreement, Mr. Hoekstra's committee has published regular reports on threats to American security, including on al Qaeda, North Korea and Iran. These reports are generally based on reputable open sources and are intended for broad public distribution and debate. They also repeatedly acknowledge that "the United States . . . [lacks] critical information needed for analysts to make some key judgments."
In other words, there's not much to get worked up about here. At least not until the IAEA decided to leak to the press an ostensibly private letter to Mr. Hoekstra detailing its objections to a report on Iran, which the agency variously labeled "outrageous," "dishonest," "erroneous" and "misleading."
And what was so dreadful about the report, which had bipartisan blessing? Aside from huffing over two committee "errors"--one of them trivial, the other semantic--the IAEA took furious exception over the committee's statement that the IAEA had decided to remove Chris Charlier, its chief weapons' inspector for Iran, after Mr. Charlier said publicly that he thought the Iranians were intent on building a nuclear weapon.
The IAEA insists that it was Iran, not the IAEA, that demanded Mr. Charlier's removal, and that Iran is within its legal rights to do so. That's true. But it is also true that Iran has repeatedly--and illegally--denied IAEA inspectors the multiple-entry visas they need to do their job.
"Iran has consistently been in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement on this point," a former IAEA official recently told the Platts news agency. "And until now the IAEA has been unwilling to draw international attention to that fact." Our sources tell us that, in addition to Mr. Charlier, Iran denied entry to two other IAEA weapons inspectors in August alone.
This is no small thing. Under Mr. ElBaradei's leadership the IAEA has presented itself as the ultimate arbiter on questions of nuclear proliferation, despite its failures to detect Iraq's nuclear-weapons programs in the 1980s and Libya's in the early part of this decade. Yet if the IAEA cannot get its personnel unimpeded into Iran--and especially if Iran can bar the toughest, most skeptical inspectors--the quality of the IAEA's information and the reliability of its judgments are bound to deteriorate.
Had Mr. ElBaradei been doing his real job, he might have made a more strenuous effort at pointing out publicly Iran's failures to comply with its obligations, rather than offer grand pronouncements on diplomacy and making partisan intrusions into American politics by critiquing Congressional white papers and Administration policy. As it is, we have Mr. Hoekstra to thank for bringing to light yet another instance of Iran's bad faith, and of the U.N.'s unreliability.