IAEA visits Israel, won't visit nuke sites

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

JERUSALEM The International Atomic Energy Agency has embarked on its first high-level visit to Israel since 1998.

IAEA director-general Mohammed El Baradei was scheduled to arrive on Tueday for a three-day visit to Israel. El Baradei plans to discuss a range of issues regarding Israel's nuclear program, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The visit was meant to show that the IAEA was not only concerned with Iran but Israel as well," an Israeli official said.

Israeli officials said El Baradei would meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other senior government representatives. They said El Baradei would not visit any nuclear facilities, including the Dimona nuclear reactor, which has never come under IAEA inspection.

Israel has neither denied nor confirmed reports that it has nuclear weapons. Western intelligence agencies have assessed that Israel can quickly produce up to 100 nuclear warheads.

"Israel is obliged to maintain all of the force components required for its defense," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said. "Our policy of ambiguity on nuclear arms has proved its worth, and will continue."

An Israeli government statement said this was El Baradei's third visit to Israel for IAEA and the second visit as the agency's director-general. It was the first visit by an IAEA chief since 1998.

"During his visit, the IAEA director-general will hold professional consultations with IAEC personnel on issues of bilateral cooperation and interest, including the resolution, adopted annually by the IAEA General Conferences for over 20 years, on the Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East," a government statement said.

Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which opens nuclear facilities to international inspection. Israel has been a member of the agency since1957.

Last week, El Baradei urged Israel to assist efforts to establish a nuclear-free zone. He said such a zone could be set up as part of a comprehensive Middle East peace arrangement.

Officials said El Baradei would not press Israel to immediately sign the NPT or open the country's nuclear facilities. They said the IAEA chief would instead seek a formula to begin a long-term process to eliminate nuclear weapons from the Middle East.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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