The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said efforts to stop countries from acquiring nuclear arms were under great stress because of a "black-market" network that is trading in weapons technology.
Speaking to reporters in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum on Thursday, IAEA chief Muhammad al-Baradei said nuclear programmes in Iran, North Korea and Libya have all intensified Western concern that one or more new countries could join the "nuclear club".
Asked about reports that nuclear know-how and technology may have reached Iran or Libya from Pakistan, al-Baradei said: "I think what we know is that there have been individuals involved. I do not want to jump to conclusions and say a government is involved."
He added: "What we are seeing is a very sophisticated network of black-market proliferators, people who are selling equipment, material underground...We are still very much in the process of investigating this network."
Pakistan has questioned Abd al-Qadeer Khan, father of its
atomic bomb, and several of his colleagues in recent weeks after the IAEA started investigating possible links between the Pakistani and Iranian nuclear programmes.
Al-Baradei said it was clear that international non-proliferation controls must be examined and strengthened in the light of "lessons" from Iran and Libya.
"The regime is under a good deal of stress right now. Absolutely, we need to work fast and hard to strengthen the
regime," he said.
The UN's nuclear watchdog also said Iran is facing "serious consequences" unless it cooperated with a probe of its atomic programme, which Washington suspects is aimed at building a bomb.
Iran pledged last year to halt
all uranium enrichment activity
"They (the Iranians) know it is very important for the agency to come to a conclusion that the Iran programme is for peaceful purposes," said al-Baradei.
Amid worries in the West that Iran may be backsliding on its promises to suspend some of its nuclear activities, he said Iran still owed the IAEA some explanations.
Despite Iran's pledge last year to halt all uranium enrichment activity, Western diplomats say they are increasingly concerned that it has continued to acquire centrifuge equipment.
"What we are seeing is a very sophisticated network of black-market proliferators, people who are selling equipment, material underground...We are still very much in the process of investigating this network"
Muhammad al-BaradeiInternational Atomic Energy Agency chief
Enriched, or purified, uranium can be used either as fuel for atomic power plants or to make nuclear weapons. Experts say acquiring weapons-grade material is the biggest hurdle that countries seeking to make an atomic bomb must overcome.
"It would obviously have serious implications if they do not
continue to cooperate fully with us in investigating the scope,
nature, and content of that programme," al-Baradei told reporters in Davos.
Al-Baradei has previously warned that Iran would be reported
to the UN Security Council if it did not cooperate with the
Vienna-based nuclear agency.
The United States suspects Iran of seeking to build a nuclear bomb under cover of its atomic energy programme, which Tehran insists is purely peaceful and geared only to generating electricity.