Alan Fisher / Al Jazeera – 2010-06-08 00:58:41
IAEA Turns its Attention to Israel
Alan Fisher / Al Jazeera
In a sprawling office complex on the edge of Vienna stands the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s nuclear watchdog. It has a number of meetings throughout the year, when the 25 nation board of directors get together to discuss the latest reports. It is normally a run-of-the mill affair. But the meeting that got under way today is important for two reasons.
Firstly, for the first time in 19 years, the gathering will discuss “Israel’s nuclear capability.”
The item has been forced onto the agenda by the 18 nation Arab block, elevating Israel to the same status as Iran and Syria.
Yukiya Amano, the new director general of the IAEA, is already drawing up a report discussing ways to make Israel open up its facilities to international inspection and sign up to the international non-proliferation treaty, which would commit it to disarmament. That should be delivered in September.
Israel, of course, employs a deliberate policy of ambiguity over its nuclear capabilities; never confirming, never denying. But the decision to have it on the agenda is a set back not just for Israel but also for its supporters.
Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA is Ali Asghar Soltanieh. He emerges from the closed door meeting to tell us: “US, Canada and European Union, they preferred not to discuss Israel’s nuclear capability, but they joined the consensus because they had no other choice.”
A ‘Special Case’
Syria is also on the agenda. Three years ago the Israelis bombed a remote site in the Syrian desert. It was thought it was a North Korean inspired reactor complex. For the last two years Syria has refused IAEA follow-up access, leaving the nuclear watchdog to wonder if there is another covert operation underway.
But it is Iran that will dominate discussions. Amano says it’s a “special case” for his monitoring teams because of suspicions it might be hiding experimental nuclear weapons programmes.
Iran freely admits it has a nuclear programme but insists it is for civilian purposes.
The IAEA report will echo far beyond this meeting. There are those at the United Nations who are marshalling support in the Security Council for a fresh round of sanctions against Tehran. They have now been handed some powerful words to help their campaign and boost their argument.
Israel has been the loudest in highlighting what it sees as the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran. But if it wants the international community to take stern action against Tehran, there are a growing number of countries who think that is a position it cannot pursue until it finally comes clean about its own nuclear capabilities.
Israel under pressure to join NPT
(May 30, 2010) — Nearly 190 nations have agreed to a declaration that pressures Israel to join the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and calls for a 2012 conference on nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Delegates in New York wrapped up a month-long round of talks on Friday aimed at updating the NPT. Their final declaration urges Israel to join the treaty and subject its nuclear facilities to oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The document calls for the United Nations secretary-general to call a meeting of Middle East states in 2012, aimed at creating a region free of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
All 189 signatories to the treaty unanimously approved the declaration on Friday night. The text also reaffirms the commitment of existing nuclear powers to reducing their arsenals.
But the future of that 2012 conference is already in doubt: General James Jones, the US national security adviser, said the US “will not permit a conference or actions that could jeopardise Israelâ€™s national security”.
US Defends Israel
“We will not accept any approach that singles out Israel or sets unrealistic expectations,” he said in a statement. In a separate statement released on Saturday, Barack Obama, the US president, said he “strongly oppose[s] efforts to single out Israel.”
Israel is one of only three states which never signed the NPT, the other two being India and Pakistan. It is believed to have a nuclear arsenal, though it refuses to confirm or deny its existence. An Israeli government official described the deal as “hypocrisy” because it makes no mention of other countries that have not signed the NPT.
“This accord has the hallmark of hypocrisy,” the unnamed government official told the AFP news agency. “Only Israel is mentioned, while the text is silent about other countries like India, Pakistan and North Korea, which have nuclear arms, or even more seriously, Iran, which is seeking to obtain them.”
The 2012 meeting — on a “weapons of mass destruction”-free Middle East — could effectively force Israel to declare and dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Israel has said it backs such an agreement in principle, but only after signing peace treaties with other countries in the region.
The US had initially sought to block the provision; Washington has long shielded Israel from pressure to disclose the details of its nuclear programme. But American diplomats eventually agreed to the provision to salvage the conference.
“The Arab group basically drew a line in the sand and said, this is as far as we can go in compromising. This language must stay, or we will not back the final document,” Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey said, reporting from New York. “[And] the United States was very interested in moving this agenda of non-proliferation forward.”
Ellen Tauscher, the US under-secretary of state for arms control, said “the United States deeply regrets” that the draft pressures Israel to join the NPT. If negotiators agree on a bargain, it would be the first successful NPT review meeting since 2000.
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