Mark Gwozdecky, thanks for joining us.
One of the primary rationales for going to war with Iraq rests on claims that Saddam Hussein is building amongst other things, nuclear weapons. The world has turned to your organisation to be something of a judge on this matter. To date, is there any evidence whatsoever of an Iraqi nuclear capacity?
MARK GWOZDECKY, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: To date, Mark, we haven’t found such evidence. When we last were in Iraq in 1998, we had completed a process of dismantling his nuclear weapons program. To date, we haven’t seen evidence that he’s rebuilt any component of that. It’s possible that there may be some small bit of research going on here or there, but it’s very difficult to hide a complete nuclear program. And to date, unless he’s acquired it from abroad, we haven’t seen evidence of any indigenous nuclear capability.
MARK DAVIS: Well, Hans Blix, the Chief UN Weapons Inspector has had a similar reaction with his now famous “There’s no smoking gun in Iraq” comment. President Bush’s spokesman responded that “We know for a fact that there are weapons there.” Have those so-called facts been shown to your organisation?
MARK GWOZDECKY: Not yet. We’ve gotten some information, but we really haven’t got what we would call “actionable information”, information that leads us to people and places where illegal activities are taking place. So if any country has information that there is a weapons program, we need to hear about it. The resolution calls on member states to provide that kind of information to the inspectors. We’ll be very keen to see it. We expect to get more of this information in the weeks to come. And we’ll be looking very extensively into every lead that we get.
MARK DAVIS: The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has claimed his government is holding back on critical information. But he says he’s waiting to see if the inspectors are quote, “Able to handle and exploit that information.” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of your organisation or your inspectors. Are you able to properly handle such US intelligence?
MARK GWOZDECKY: We have investigated some of the claims already that both the Americans and the British have put forward on the nuclear side. One specific claim involving the alleged import of aluminium tubes for use in uranium centrifuges. Well, we’ve looked into that one so far, and to date I have to say that the evidence supports the Iraqi contention that they have imported these tubes to make rockets not for nuclear weapons.
MARK DAVIS: What level of cooperation have the Iraqis provided to your inspectors to date?
MARK GWOZDECKY: It’s a mixed record in that regard, Mark. On the one hand, in terms of access, we’re getting all that we need. We’re getting into every facility that we visit. All of the doors are opening when we want them to open. So in that sense, that’s a positive, a positive sign. But ultimately, Iraqi’s got to understand that it’s got to do more than just provide cooperation in terms of process. They’ve got to provide cooperation in terms of substance.
MARK DAVIS: I presume on the issue of cooperation, the same charge could be made against America. I mean, are they giving cooperation of substance, whereas at least Iraq is at least giving some sort of access?
MARK GWOZDECKY: Indeed, you know, we can use some more cooperation from both sides. The more cooperation we get from Iraq, the more intelligence and information we get from countries like the United States, the faster this process goes.
MARK DAVIS: Well, clearly you’re stuck in the middle, as it were. The Iraqis regard you as American spies, and the Americans themselves also seem to have some mistrust of you. If the situation is reversed regarding the flow of information that’s coming from America, if that information starts to flow, is two weeks long enough to verify that information, given that you must deliver your initial judgment to the Security Council on January 27?
MARK GWOZDECKY: Mark, you’ve put your finger on it. It is an initial judgment. It is a status report. It’s an update, not a cut-off date. The council understands that. They don’t expect us to come on January 27 with all the answers. So we’ll be reporting what we know at that time, and nothing beyond that. We’ve made it clear to the council, and they’ve understood right from the beginning that this is a process that takes time.
MARK DAVIS: Time is the one commodity we don’t have at the moment, though. How long do you need to draw a comprehensive conclusion on Iraqi’s nuclear capacity?
MARK GWOZDECKY: We’ve indicated that’s something in the vicinity of a year. Now, that seems like a long time, but you understand this is a big country, a lot of ground to cover. And some important things at stake here. So we think it’s worth a little bit of a wait to get to a credible conclusion that we can all have confidence in. And that can lead us to a peaceful resolution as opposed to a resolution of this issue by force. Again, it’s not so long a period of time when you look at this problem as one that’s stretched out for beyond a decade. We think it’s worth the wait.
MARK DAVIS: Well, the armies are gathering as we speak. Realistically, you’re not going to get a year. I mean, America is not going to wait this time.
MARK GWOZDECKY: It’s difficult to know how much time we have indeed. There is a military build-up. We believe and we hope that this build-up is an expression of American seriousness and particularly a way to maintain the pressure on Iraq.
MARK DAVIS: Well, if the US and its allies do decide to strike within the next few weeks or months on the basis that Iraq has, amongst other things, a nuclear capacity, in your opinion, could this possibly be an informed opinion?
MARK GWOZDECKY: We formulate our opinions based on verification based on inspectors getting in there and seeing with their eyes and hearing with ears. So we form an opinion when we have an exhaustive process in place, and one that we can be confident in. A decision to go to war, you know, is not in our hands.
MARK DAVIS: Perhaps we’re chasing shadows in Iraq at the moment, but are the nuclear prospects in Korea a more clear danger?
MARK GWOZDECKY: North Korea is a top priority for our organisation as well, no less important than what’s happening in Iraq. And we are very, very concerned. This is also a nuclear program that has gone a little bit in the shadows for more than a decade. North Korea has never fully cooperated with our agency, according to the safeguards agreement that they have with us. These recent decisions have only made it worse. And we need some time to let diplomacy work because this is too important a matter to let rest.
MARK DAVIS: You talk about diplomacy. This has clearly been a failure of diplomacy in the last 12 months. Given George Bush’s decision to label the North Koreans as part of the “axis of evil”, is it perhaps understandable that North Korea now sets about arming itself to a hostile world?
MARK GWOZDECKY: They’ve said that they have no intention of producing nuclear weapons as of now. It’s clear the North Koreans don’t want to talk to us or most other countries. They want to talk to the United States. And again I think there’s evidence that that’s going to happen in the days ahead. And that’s the critical thing to watch.
MARK DAVIS: Well, it seems that a lot of people don’t want to talk to you – the Iraqis, the North Koreans, the Americans. Is there a chance that you’ll be swept aside in this, what appears to be, a rush to war? Or that whatever statements you make will be used as pretext for that war?
MARK GWOZDECKY: I don’t think so. You know, we’re a United Nations organisation. We represent 135 countries, so what we do and say carries the support of basically the global community. I don’t think any country can get away with indefinitely trying to dismiss what we do because it’s again something that the global community supports. Everybody wants nuclear activities in the world to be peaceful. And if we can’t have assurances of that, I don’t think the international community will rest for a long time without dealing with it.
MARK DAVIS: Thanks for being with us on Dateline.