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UN: Nuclear Agency Head Warns Nonproliferation Efforts Under 'Stress'

The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Muhammad el-Baradei, says the nuclear nonproliferation regime established in the 1960s is under increasing stress. He told the United Nations General Assembly that the international community should consider putting all production of weapon-usable plutonium and highly enriched uranium under multinational control. His report comes at a time of heightened concern about proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.

United Nations, 4 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Citing recent challenges in Iran and North Korea, the director of the UN's nuclear watchdog agency has called for intensified efforts to improve the regime governing nuclear weapons proliferation.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Muhammad el-Baradei, told the UN General Assembly yesterday that recent events have placed the nonproliferation system under growing stress.

El-Baradei said UN members should consider limiting the processing of weapons-usable material, such as separated plutonium and highly enriched uranium, in civilian nuclear programs. They should do this, he said, by restricting these operations to facilities under multinational control.

He said the international community should also consider multinational management and disposal of spent fuel and radioactive waste. More than 50 countries currently have spent fuel stored in temporary facilities and many are unable to carry out disposal properly, according to el-Baradei: "Information and expertise on how to produce nuclear weapons has become far much more accessible. This places extra emphasis on the importance of controlling access to weapon-usable nuclear material."

The IAEA chief also raised concern about trafficking. He said the agency has helped a number of states in the past year recover and secure radioactive sources seized in trafficking incidents. The desire for this illicit material, he said, is apparent: "Information in the agency database of illicit trafficking, combined with reports of discoveries of plans for radiological dispersal devices -- so-called dirty bombs -- makes it clear that a market continues to exist for obtaining and using radioactive sources for malevolent purposes."

He said that in this new environment, far different from the situation in the 1960s when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was negotiated, the IAEA's verification activities must be strengthened.

El-Baradei expressed regret that the 46 states that are party to the treaty have not yet carried out their legal obligations to bring safeguards agreements into force. Such measures would help the IAEA improve its verification capability.

He said North Korea continues to pose a challenge to the nuclear nonproliferation regime. El-Baradei expressed hope that the six-party talks on North Korea will lead to a settlement that returns Pyongyang to the NPT and permits credible inspections.

The UN agency is also evaluating a report which Iranian authorities have said is a full declaration of its past and current nuclear activities. El-Baradei will report to the IAEA board later this month on the status of its implementation of safeguards in Iran.

Following his address, a European Union representative repeated the EU's concern over Iran's nuclear program. But the official, Italian envoy Carlo Trezza, expressed hope that Iran will follow through on its pledges of cooperation made last month to foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany: "The EU believes that the full implementation of Iran's decisions will open the way to a dialogue on a basis for longer-term cooperation which will provide all parties with satisfactory assurances relating to Iran's nuclear power generation program."

Iran has agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment program, sign an additional protocol to the NPT and fully cooperate with snap IAEA inspections. Iranian officials have stressed the country's right to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Iran's UN ambassador, Javad Zarif, told the assembly yesterday that nuclear weapons have no place in the country's defense doctrine. He said this is because of its NPT obligations as well as a result of "sober and strategic calculation."

He said the recent round of IAEA scrutiny of its nuclear facilities was part of a politicized campaign. Zarif did not mention any states but top Iranian officials have frequently accused the United States of planting suspicions about its nuclear program: "Regrettably, a politically charged atmosphere of concern was orchestrated about this limited peaceful capability which has little to do with the objectives of nonproliferation."

El-Baradei yesterday also raised the issue of further nuclear inspections in Iraq. He said the IAEA mandate there under various Security Council resolutions is still valid and he is awaiting further guidance from the Security Council: "I believe it would be prudent for the UN and IAEA inspectors to return to Iraq, to bring the weapons file to a closure -- and through implementation of a Security Council-approved plan for long-term monitoring -- to provide ongoing assurance that activities related to weapons of mass destruction have not been resumed."

The United States is currently leading efforts to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, with a team headed by former UN inspector David Kay. No major evidence of the revival of nuclear weapons activities in Iraq in the final years of Hussein's regime has been found.