UN agency demands access to Iraq

The UN's nuclear watchdog is becoming increasingly exasperated with the continuing refusal of the United States to allow it to investigate the looting of an alleged nuclear site in Iraq.

    Baradei is frustrated

    In one of his most forthright statements yet on the issue, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed al-Baradei, said Sunday UN inspectors should return to Iraq, adding that he was disturbed by the US government’s reluctance to approve his request.


    "I am getting frustrated that we haven't had a response," al-Baradei told reporters before speaking to graduates of Tufts University's Fletcher School.


    Al-Baradei asked the US State Department last month to allow his agency to have access to al-Tuwaitha site, south of Baghdad, after it was reportedly looted. 


    The agency fears that material obtained by looters, such as radioactive  matter, could pose health problems to the civilian population.


    “We read all these reports about material that’s being looted, that’s being stolen, and obviously a lot of radioactive sources that people have been exposed to,” al-Baradei said. “That obviously is a major worry for us.”


    In a direct challenge to US claims that its own teams are sufficient, the agency chief also said UN arms inspectors must return to Iraq and finish the task commissioned to them by the UN Security Council.  


    "We are the ones with the most ... experience. We know whom to interview, we know what to do, and we will definitely be much more efficient completing that job than any coalition could," he said.


    Al-Baradei was responsible for supervising UN inspectors searching for atomic weapons before the war on Iraq.


    UN inspectors evacuated Iraq days before the US-led war on the country began on March 20. Following the war, the United States set up its own teams to search for weapons of mass destruction.


    The United States had accused the ousted Iraqi government of reviving its nuclear weapons programme that UN inspectors destroyed in 1998.


    Before the US invasion, UN inspectors headed by UNMOVIC’s Hans Blix found some banned missiles, but were unable to verify or refute US allegations that Iraq possessed chemical or biological weapons.


    The IAEA could not find evidence that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear arms programme.


    Al-Baradei also said his inspectors would report next month on their findings in Iran, which he visited in February, in a meeting for board members of the IAEA.


    Earlier this month, Bush administration officials told The New York Times the United States was putting pressure on IAEA member nations to declare Iran a violator of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.


    Al-Baradei refused to discuss his agency’s report, saying IAEA inspectors were still in Iran.


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