Israel tells UN’s ElBaradei Iran wants nuclear arms

07/07/2004 Mohammed ElBaradei meets with Israeli atomic energy commission director in Tel Aviv, says Arab countries feel there is a double standard. Israel, pressed to consider a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, stressed its fear that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and might use them against it, the visiting head of the UN nuclear watchdog said Wednesday. „They [the Israelis] were expressing concern about Iran,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei told reporters after meeting in Tel Aviv with Gideon Frank, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, commission officials and a former head of the Mossad secret service.

ElBaradei is on a three-day visit to Israel, which refuses to admit or deny having nuclear weapons under a policy of „strategic ambiguity.” International experts believe it has 100-200 warheads, based on estimates of the amount of plutonium its reactors have produced. ElBaradei said his attempts to promote the idea of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East ran up against Israeli concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and about the hostility to Israel of some states in the region. „The majority of the countries in the Middle East feel that there is this security imbalance in the Middle East, this double standard,” ElBaradei said of the assumption that Israel has atomic weapons and other Middle East states do not. „Here the Israelis are saying you cannot even discuss that because we cannot lower our security threshold before we have a comprehensive peace where we are fully accepted as part and parcel of the region,” he said. ElBaradei said he was trying to find a compromise that would enable the Israelis and their Arab and Muslim neighbors to work out a realistic security arrangement that did not include the bomb as part of any peace process. Iran, which, unlike Israel, has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), says it wants nuclear technology solely for the peaceful generation of electricity. But Washington and Israel accuse Tehran of concealing research that could be related to nuclear arms for nearly two decades until last year. „I would like to see Israel supporting the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” ElBaradei said on his arrival in Israel Tuesday, adding that he would like to see Israel sign an additional agreement committing it to disclose information on any potential nuclear-related exports. But the IAEA director said he did not intend to push the Jewish state on the nuclear issue. „It’s not a question of pressure. I have no power to pressure,” he said. Israel strongly objects to any international inspections of its nuclear facility in Dimona, although it does allow IAEA inspections at the small research reactor at Nahal Soreq, near Yavneh. ElBaradei is also scheduled to meet with Health Minister Dan Naveh on Wednesday, and with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday. „There are no signs of a policy change in Israel,” said a diplomat close to the IAEA. New nuclear medicine program Israel is expected to announce Wednesday a new national program for nuclear medicine that will win financial and technical support from the IAEA. The announcement will come during a meeting in Jerusalem this afternoon between Naveh and ElBaradei. The declaration is meant to emphasize the long-standing cooperation between Israel and the IAEA and to dull the tension that exists between the state and the international agency over Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity. Also up for discussion are the various international treaties Israel has signed, such as the treaty for the protection of reactors and disaster prevention programs, as well as programs meant to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or material. On Thursday, ElBaradei is slated to meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the prime minister’s bureau. He will also see Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom at Ben-Gurion Airport, where Shalom will be returning from overseas as ElBaradei leaves for his Vienna headquarters. Also Thursday, he is slated to deliver a speech at Hebrew University to a select audience of academics, government officials and press on his view on how to reduce the world’s supply of nuclear weapons. During his talks with the Israeli officials, both sides will raise the issue of Iran’s nuclear program and IAEA efforts to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Government sources are emphasizing that the visit is „routine” and no change in policy should be expected. Indeed, the government is making efforts to keep the visit very low-profile.