AFP: The UN nuclear watchdog opens a general conference of its 144 member states Monday, with its chief Mohamed ElBaradei under fire from Western quarters that he is too soft on Iran. VIENNA (AFP) The UN nuclear watchdog opens a general conference of its 144 member states Monday, with its chief Mohamed ElBaradei under fire from Western quarters that he is too soft on Iran.
Iran is certain to be a key topic of discussion. Iranian vice president and head of the Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI) Reza Aghazadeh will address the gathering of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Sergei Kiriyenko, director of Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency, are also attending.
The criticism of ElBaradei centers on his cutting a deal with Iran for new nuclear inspections.
Washington fears Tehran will use this as a delaying tactic to avoid facing new UN sanctions for refusing to stop enriching uranium, which can be fuel for civilian power reactors but also the raw material for atom bombs.
At issue is how to win guarantees that Iran’s nuclear work is peaceful. US patience is wearing thin as it presses for more UN sanctions but ElBaradei is urging more inspections that could lead to talks on ending the crisis.
The London-based Economist newsweekly wrote Friday that “ElBaradei may think he is making space for diplomacy. But easing the squeeze on Iran may well make it harder to find a diplomatic solution.”
In Washington, the US State Department said the six major countries working to resolve the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear program will discuss a draft UN sanctions text September 21 in the US capital.
The IAEA conference comes meanwhile in the wake of an apparent Israeli attack on Syria September 6 that might be related to suspicions that Syria and Iran are buying nuclear material from North Korea.
This new development could envenom what is a regular feature of the IAEA general conference — an effort by Arab states to get a resolution passed condemning Israel for possessing nuclear weapons.
“In terms of the action on the Israel question, the Israeli threat resolution will gain more attention this year because of this added issue of Israel once again possibly taking Osirik-type action on a nuclear facility in another country,” non-proliferation analyst Mark Fitzpatrick told AFP.
He was referring to Israel’s bombing in 1981 of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirik.
Fitzpatrick, a senior researcher at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said it was not clear if “this attack on Syria was really North Korea related or nuclear related or was it merely a warning to Iran that you are next if you don’t suspend your program.”
In past years, Arab countries have attacked the Jewish state at the IAEA general conference for allegedly possessing nuclear weapons and tried to pass a resolution asking Israel, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to place its atomic facilities under NPT safeguards.
Israel neither confirms nor denies reports that it has some 200 atom bombs.
The debate has given Middle Eastern states a chance to use the IAEA conference to vent their frustration over Iran being singled out for having alleged nuclear capabilities while the IAEA does not act similarly against Israel.
Traditionally, a resolution is introduced but then withdrawn and postponed to the following year, in return for Israel agreeing to a call for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
The week-long IAEA conference comes on the 50th anniversary of the watchdog, which was founded in 1957 as the world’s “Atoms for Peace” organisation.
The conference includes a scientific forum Tuesday and Wednesday on “Global Challenges and the Development of Atomic Energy: The Next 25 Years.”