He says invading Iraq has damaged credibility of U.S.
The chief U.N. nuclear arms inspector sharply criticized the Bush administration Thursday, saying the American invasion and occupation of Iraq had damaged the credibility of the United States.
In a speech at Stanford University, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the Security Council had practiced double standards by using a " 'good guys versus bad guys' approach" that encouraged nations to build weapons secretly, and he accused the council of having "little to no response" as North Korea built nuclear arms.
ElBaradei's speech was a remarkable challenge to President Bush only two days after his re-election, and it sets the IAEA chief on an open collision course with the administration.
Only last week, ElBaradei was accused by some administration supporters of trying to embarrass Bush in the last days of the campaign by releasing information about looted explosives in Iraq. Also last week, administration officials announced that the United States would oppose ElBaradei's bid for a third term at the helm of the IAEA.
Although ElBaradei's remarks Thursday were couched in diplomatic language, his arguments were much more specific and unambiguous than is usual for a U.N official.
ElBaradei opened by noting that his prewar conclusions that Saddam Hussein did not have any nuclear weapons programs had been proved correct, despite Bush administration claims to the contrary. "Inspections were working, " ElBaradei said, referring to the constant scouring of Iraq by U.N. arms experts.
ElBaradei described the U.S.-led coalition's invasion and occupation of Iraq in stark terms.
"The coalition lost in credibility in some people's eyes by proceeding to use force without the endorsement of the Security Council," he said. "The United Nations lost in credibility ... and as a result has come to be perceived in some quarters -- particularly by many in Iraq -- as an adjunct of the coalition force, and not as an independent and impartial institution."
ElBaradei rebutted the U.S. argument that despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the Iraqi people had benefited from the U.S. invasion.
"Perhaps it is the Iraqi people who have lost the most ..." he said. "They have had still more misery brought on by the ravages of war and the unforeseen and extended period of insurgency and civil disorder."
In an interview with The Chronicle before his speech, ElBaradei said that contrary to Bush administration warnings that Iraq's neighbor, Iran, was developing nuclear weapons, no such proof had been found.
"We haven't seen any concrete intelligence that points to a fact that Iran has a nuclear weapons program," he said. "We have seen Iran experimenting with all aspects of the fuel cycle, but we still have lots of work to do" in continuing IAEA inspections inside Iran.
The Bush administration has been pressing the IAEA to declare Iran in violation of its treaty obligations and to send the case to the Security Council, where economic sanctions could be imposed. This push has caused speculation in world capitals that despite its current problems in Iraq, the United States would try for "regime change" to topple Iran's Shiite Muslim government.
ElBaradei said that often-bogus intelligence information about Hussein's alleged arsenal before the Iraq war had made him look closely at information given by Western intelligence agencies. "What I do not want is disinformation, " he said. "There's a difference between robust inspection and harassment, and I do not want to end up in a situation where I'm continuously harassing a country based on misinformation."
In his speech to Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation, ElBaradei also pressed for greater urgency in dealing with the nuclear threat from North Korea. He complained that after Pyongyang threw out IAEA inspectors in 2002, neither the Security Council nor the United States had responded promptly.
He also addressed a more fundamental question -- whether all non- nuclear nations should be prevented from developing nuclear weapons, or only those nations that the West viewed as hostile. The Bush administration has implicitly taken the latter position.
ElBaradei called the U.S. policy a " 'good guys versus bad guys' approach that inevitably leaves some nations seeking to achieve parity."
ElBaradei said this arms race could be slowed if the United States and its allies implemented the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which would halt all nuclear weapons testing. The treaty was signed by President Bill Clinton, but the Senate refused to ratify it. The Bush administration has abandoned any efforts to seek ratification, and some officials have said the United States should formally withdraw from the treaty.
ElBaradei also called for adding a significant new power to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the principal mechanism for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
He suggested renegotiating the treaty to stop countries from even developing the capabilities for enriching uranium. As it is now, the treaty gives all nations the right to enrich uranium if they claim it is to be used to generate electricity. ElBaradei called these programs "latent weapons programs" because they can quickly be transformed into factories for making the highly enriched uranium or plutonium needed for nuclear weapons.
Many developing nations that rely on nuclear power, such as Brazil and Vietnam, strongly oppose any limits on their right to enrich uranium.
"In my view, we have come to a fork in the road," ElBaradei said. "Either there must be a demonstrated commitment to move toward nuclear disarmament, or we should resign ourselves to the fact that other countries will pursue a more dangerous parity through proliferation."
In the Chronicle interview, ElBaradei warned starkly that "our global survival is at stake."
He predicted "a situation within 20 years when you have 30 to 40 countries that are not far away from developing weapons ... and can do it if they choose."
Copyright 2004 SF Chronicle