IAEA wants Israel to back nuke-free region

The UN's atomic energy agency chief is heading for Israel to pitch for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

    Israel is quiet about the nuclear reactor near the town of Dimona

    Muhammad a

    l-Baradai is determined to push ahead with his agenda despite allegations that Israel has atomic



    Israel, which is believed to have up to 200 nuclear weapons, has

    a policy of "ambiguity" under which it neither confirms nor denies

    it has the bomb.


    But al-Baradai, director-general of the Vienna-based

    International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in Moscow last week

    that Israel should clarify its nuclear activities and start

    working towards ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons.


    IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky confirmed on Saturday that these

    would be key topics on al-Baradai's visit from Tuesday to Thursday.


    Al-Baradai is to meet with Israeli atomic energy officials as well as

    cabinet ministers.


    Little hope


    But Israeli analyst Gerald Steinberg held out little hope for

    Al-Baradai to make much progress.


    Steinberg, from the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs, said in

    a written forecast of the visit that Israel was not

    about to change its ambiguity policy and sign on to the nuclear

    Non-Proliferation Treaty that mandates the IAEA to verify atomic

    activities worldwide.


    "There is no foundation for a change" since "the threat to

    Israel has not diminished much in the past five decades and hatred

    of Israel in the Arab and Muslim worlds remains intense," Steinberg



    He said Israel was particularly worried about its arch enemy

    Iran, which the IAEA is investigating for allegedly secretly

    developing nuclear weapons.


    Steinberg said Israel's giving up its "nuclear insurance policy ...

    would actually make the region more unstable" and that Israel

    would not accept a trade-off "linking Iran's illegal nuclear programme

    with pressure on Israel to abandon its deterrent".


    He added that a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East "however

    distant, will become essentially unfeasible if Iran crosses the

    point of no return in its development of nuclear weapons."


    Peace Agreement


    Al-Baradai said: "I think the message we need at the end of the

    day is to rid the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction.

    Israel agrees with that. They say that has to be in the context of a

    peace agreement."


    Al-Baradai said that rather than waiting there should be a

    "parallel dialogue on security and ... the peace process. I don't

    think you'll have peace without people understanding what sort of

    security structure you will have."


    IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said it would be Al-Baradai's

    first trip to Israel in six years and that he would be carrying out

    his mandate from the 137-member agency "to promote non-proliferation

    and a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East."


    Al-Baradai visits Israel after two other critical trips this year

    - to Libya, which has disarmed its nuclear weapons programmes, and to



    Al-Baradai's trip also follows the release from prison earlier

    this year of Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who

    says Israel should rid itself of nuclear weapons and open up fully

    to international inspection.


    Arab countries that are members of the IAEA have complained that

    Israel is not being investigated, at a time when countries such as Iran

    are under intense scrutiny from the UN agency.


    India and Pakistan, two other relatively new nuclear powers,

    have also refused to sign the NPT, while long-established nuclear

    states China, Britain, France, the United States and Russia are

    founding members of the treaty.



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