IAEA to press for inspections of Israel's nuclear facility

Thursday, June 3, 2004

JERUSALEM The International Atomic Energy Agency plans a campaign to force Israel to permit international inspections of its Dimona nuclear facility.

The agency has been under longterm pressure from the European Union, Arab states and Iran to focus more attention on Irael's nuclear program.

Several Arab countries reiterated their call for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East during a United Nations sponsored disarmament conference in Geneva on May 27. Arab envoys said the establishment of such a zone would be their priority over the coming year.

IAEA director-general Mohammed El Baradei plans to visit Israel over the next two months, officials said. The visit was expected to take place following the IAEA board of directors's meeting in mid-June to discuss Iranian compliance with international nuclear inspection efforts. The United States has charged that Teheran has violated its pledge to the IAEA.

Israeli officials said the campaign was also in response to a spate of articles and television documentaries based on information provided by Israeli nuclear spy Mordechai Vanunu. Vanunu was released from an Israeli prison on April 21 and has been living in a monastery in Jerusalem.

Officials said several Western countries, together with Israeli and international anti-nuclear activitists, plan to focus on Dimona in the weeks prior to El Baradei's arrival in Israel. They said Vanunu has been urged to discuss Dimona and Israel's purported nuclear weapons program.

The European Union has also been encouraging El Baradei's efforts to press Israel to open Dimona to international inspections as part of the campaign for a nuclear-free Middle East. Officials said such EU countries as Britain, France and Germany have quietly warned the Bush administration that the West would fail to win Iranian cooperation with the IAEA unless Israel's nuclear program becomes part of the international effort.

The IAEA drive has been urged by Egypt, Syria and other Arab and Muslim states, officials said. Egypt has appealed to the United States to press Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would allow the IAEA to inspect suspected nuclear facilities, including the Dimona reactor.

"There has been a feeling within the international community that too much attention has been paid to Iran's nuclear program at the expense of Israel," a senior Israeli official said. "There is a drive to switch the focus from Iran to Israel over the next few months by portraying Israel as an immediate nuclear threat."

The agency has confirmed that El Baradei will be visiting Israel sometime in the summer. An agency spokesman said details have not yet been finalized.

El Baradei's visit would be the first to Israel since 1998. An IAEA statement on April 29 said the director-general intends to "use such a trip to consult on his mandate from the IAEA General Conference to promote non-proliferation and a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East, as well as to discuss bilateral cooperation in nuclear sciences and applications."

"Arab countries have launched numerous initiatives to free the Middle East from all weapons of mass destruction, notably nuclear weapons," Saudi representative Abdul Wahab Attar said. "They have moved within the Arab League to establish a governmental committee of experts to work out a draft treaty to make the Middle East WMD free."

In late May, Israeli authorities detained a British journalist sent to Israel to interview Vanunu for the British Broadcasting Corp. Officials said a videotape of an interview by Peter Hounam of Vanunu was seized and the journalist was expelled from Israel.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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