An interview with IAEA’s assistant director general, by the Buenos Aires Herald's reporter Carolina Barros as Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad facing new sanctions over his nation's suspect nuclear program, arrived in Venezuela on Sunday to meet with President Hugo Chavez. The trip will be five-days aimed at shoring up ties in Latin America and will also take him to Nicaragua where he’ll attend the inauguration of re-elected President Daniel Ortega, and on to Ecuador and Cuba.
Rafael Grossi is an Argentine career diplomat, who has specialized in nuclear issues since the 1980s. “Borrowed” from the Argentine Foreign Ministry, Grossi is Assistant Director General at the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear agency reporting to the UN Security Council. He is also Chief of Cabinet for Yuyika Amano, IAEA’s Director General. Relaxed and self-assured, Grossi has deep knowledge of Iran’s nuclear development and facilities, which at the moment are in the spotlight for allegedly being expanded to nuclear weapons. While on a short visit to Buenos Aires, Grossi gave an exclusive interview to the Buenos Aires Herald and straightforwardly spoke about the current tensions generated by Iran in the Middle East and the Western world.
Q: How serious is the Iran situation?
Rafael Grossi: In the global context of nuclear weapons proliferation, Iran, when compared with Syria or North Korea, is the most urgent issue and of the most immediate concern. The fact that Tehran has an institutional relationship with the agency (IAEA), signed the Non-Proliferation Nuclear Treaty and stays within the international system in terms of non-proliferation rules is a very important issue. Independently, there are controversies in terms of the degree to which Iran complies with these norms.
Q: Iran insists that its nuclear programme does not have military designs. Is this true?
RG: In public statements, Iran has said and repeated that its nuclear programme is absolutely peaceful, and that it is willing to prove it is and keep its doors open to IAEA inspectors. This demonstrates the importance of our work, as we are the only international presence within Iran that is allowed to get inside nuclear installations. This must be kept and maintained, as a starting point. Beyond the inspections, Iran has not totally complied with the norms in terms of agreements regarding to safeguards, as well as the Additional Protocol, which it pledged to comply with but later decided not to. In other words, Iran has attempted to move forward in terms of transparency several times and later changed its mind.
Q: In November 2011, the IAEA released a strongly-worded document about Iran ’s nuclear development, which led to US sanctions and maybe later EU sanctions. Would this be an ultimatum for an Iran that could have already developed a nuclear weapon?
RG: In 2009, Western intelligence services revealed that uranium was being enriched in a facility in Qom to a greater degree than permitted. This led Iran to rapidly “recognize” the existence of these installations to the IAEA. The November 2011 document, on the other hand, is a list of possible military dimensions (PMD) in its programme. This has nothing to do with enrichment, heavy water, or what happens in known installations, where Iran is undergoing uranium enrichment activities that it should not be doing and which Security Council resolutions have called on the country to suspend (resolutions ignored by Iran until now). The problems revealed by the latest report focus on development and technology directly linked to nuclear weapons.
Q: Specifically, what sort of development is being discussed?
RG: Activities linked to the development of an explosive nuclear device. In the report we focus on the research and development of detonators, primers, the use of uranium in a metallic state, and the nuclear testing and technology. These are all aspects and activities that are solely linked to the development of nuclear weaponry devices.
Q: Is there time to interrupt this process? Are there actually more than three bombs under development, as is suspected?
RG: We are not saying that Iran has one, two or three nuclear devices: we are saying that Iran has, at different stages of development, technology that is directly linked to the development of a nuclear device. With this report, we have proved to the international community that the issue is not the “possible military dimensions within the Iranian nuclear programme,” as the agency has said up to now. The November report reveals the “list” of what we have been discussing up to now. It is a portion of the information that we have regarding 12 technological lines. We want to clarify what the Iran situation is but, as an agency, we cannot speculate about the real situation.
Q: Yourself and other IAEA directors are going to Iran at the end of the month. What are your expectations?
RG: Beyond grandiose statements, Iran has not shut down relations with the Agency. (After Catherine Ashton, EU Foreign Minister, sent a document, Tehran accepted the continuation of dialogue.) On January 28, we will try to draft a road map to see how we tackle specific issues, including those related to the PMDs.
Q: If the Iranians scratch the PMDs off the list, will the IAEA withdraw from negotiations?
RG: We will continue to inspect the rest of the nuclear programmes. We will call the Board of Governors, who will take the issue to the Security Council. It would be very serious for Iran as, up until now, China and Russia have blocked sanctions on the grounds that Tehran is cooperating with the Agency. If the IAEA tells the world that “ Iran is not cooperating”, Russia and China will be left without justification for their support.
Q: Will Turkey become involved?
RG: Turkey failed in a 2010 attempt to mediate along with Brazil. Now the country is surely looking to ally with or protect Iran, in exchange for the latter’s renouncement of nuclear weapons. Turkey clearly is tired of the Europeans and has realized that it has a very important role in the region.
Q: What do you think of Ahmadinejad’s Latin America tour and Iran ’s proposal to export nuclear “know-how” to Africa ? Is this but one more challenge?
RG: More than a challenge, this is an attempt by Iran to expand its support base among developing countries, which is currently almost non-existent. Internationally, Tehran has not achieved, despite its efforts, to transform its case into a “North-South” issue, in which the developed North throttles the technological advances of a “southern” country.
----This interview originally ran in today’s Buenos Aires Herald newspaper.