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IAEA turns its attention to Israel
For the first time in 19 years the watchdog will discuss Israel's nuclear capability.
Last Modified: 08 Jun 2010 06:28 GMT
Israel's nuclear capability was forced on the IAEA's agenda by the 18 nation Arab block, elevating Israel to the same status as Iran and Syria [EPA]

In a sprawling office complex on the edge of Vienna stands the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world's nuclear watchdog.

It has a number of meetings throughout the year, when the 35 nation board of directors get together to discuss the latest reports. It is normally a run-of-the mill affair.

But the meeting that got under way today is important for two reasons.

Firstly, for the first time in 19 years, the gathering will discuss "Israel's nuclear capability".

Coming clean?

The item has been forced onto the agenda by the 18 nation Arab block, elevating Israel to the same status as Iran and Syria.

Yukiya Amano, the new director general of the IAEA, is already drawing up a report discussing ways to make Israel open up its facilities to international inspection and sign up to the international non-proliferation treaty, which would commit it to disarmament. That should be delivered in September.

Israel, of course, employs a deliberate policy of ambiguity over its nuclear capabilities; never confirming, never denying.

But the decision to have it on the agenda is a set back not just for Israel but also for its supporters.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA is Ali Asghar Soltanieh. He emerges from the closed door meeting to tell us: "US, Canada and European Union, they preferred not to discuss Israel's nuclear capability, but they joined the consensus because they had no other choice."

A 'special case'

Syria is also on the agenda. Three years ago the Israelis bombed a remote site in the Syrian desert. It was thought it was a North Korean inspired reactor complex. For the last two years Syria has refused IAEA follow-up access, leaving the nuclear watchdog to wonder if there is another covert operation underway.

But it is Iran that will dominate discussions. Amano says it's a "special case" for his monitoring teams because of suspicions it might be hiding experimental nuclear weapons programmes.

Iran freely admits it has a nuclear programme but insists it is for civilian purposes.

The IAEA report will echo far beyond this meeting. There are those at the United Nations who are marshalling support in the Security Council for a fresh round of sanctions against Tehran. They have now been handed some powerful words to help their campaign and boost their argument.

Israel has been the loudest in highlighting what it sees as the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.

But if it wants the international community to take stern action against Tehran, there are a growing number of countries who think that is a position it cannot pursue until it finally comes clean about its own nuclear capabilities.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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