IAEA breaks ice with Israel on N-issue

UN atomic energy chief Muhammad al-Baradai has met Israeli atomic energy officials in Tel Aviv to implement his campaign for a nuclear weapon-free Middle East.

    Al-Baradai is to raise all N-related issues in the Middle East

    "We're discussing all issues of proliferation concern in the Middle East. If people want to raise the Iranian issue, I'll tell them where we are and what we're doing," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General al-Baradai told reporters in the Israeli capital on Wednesday.


    Al-Baradai was meeting Gideon Franck, head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission.


    The IAEA chief earlier began his visit to Israel on Tuesday by playing down prospects of a breakthrough in efforts to persuade the Israeli government to reveal its nuclear secrets and rid the Middle East of nuclear weapons.


    No illusion


    "I have no illusion that things could happen overnight but I believe that the earlier we start a security dialogue, the better," al-Baradai said.


    Experts believe Israel has 200
    nuclear warheads in its arsenal

    "People need to understand that this is something that has been discussed for over 30 years."


    Al-Baradai is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday, but the premier on Tuesday said that Israel's policy of refusing to confirm or deny that it has nuclear weapons would continue.


    Most foreign experts believe Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal, comprising around 200 warheads, although it has stuck to a policy of "ambiguity" for the past 40 years.




    Israel is not a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) but al-Baradai said that he hoped to persuade Sharon's government to sign up to other agreements with his agency.


    "We should not have
    any illusions that
    these things ... will change overnight"

    Muhammad al-Baradai,
    IAEA chief

    He is expected to push for an agreement that would involve Israel informing the IAEA about Israeli imports and exports of nuclear-related material.


    Al-Baradai said it was "a long path to travel. We should not have any illusions that these things ... will change overnight."


    "We need to take the first step," he said, adding that this could be Israel "concluding an additional protocol with the agency.


    "We need to understand the different viewpoints of Israel, of the other parties in the Middle East and that's what I'm asked to do - consult with all the parties and see how we can move things forward," he said, referring to a mandate he received from an IAEA general conference last year on working towards a nuclear-free Middle East.


    Experts have said al-Baradai's mission is more of a political gesture to convince Arab states the IAEA is as concerned about Israel as it is about Iran.



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