UN Atomic Agency Wrestles With Iran, Iraq, North Korea

VIENNA, Austria, September 26, 2005 (ENS) - Appointed to a third consecutive four year term by the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei today told the opening session of the UN nuclear watchdog's weeklong general conference, "The current challenges to international peace and security, including those related to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear arms control, cannot be wished away, and will continue to stare us in the face."

As priorities, Dr. ElBaradei listed normalizing safeguards in Iraq; bringing the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea, DPRK or North Korea, back to the Nonproliferation Treaty; providing the required assurances about Iran's nuclear program; and continuing to investigate the nature and extent of the illicit nuclear procurement network.


IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt addresses the organization's 49th General Council. (Photo courtesy IAEA)
"The Agency's resumption of inspections in Iraq, the termination of inspections in the DPRK, our investigation of clandestine nuclear programs in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and the Islamic Republic of Iran, the discovery of illicit nuclear procurement networks, and the lack of agreement at the 2005 NPT Review Conference have put the spotlight on an unprecedented array of challenges to the non-proliferation and arms control regime," said ElBaradei.

But Greenpeace demonstrators staged a protest in front of the UN building in Vienna denounced the role of the IAEA in promoting nuclear power and "thereby aiding the spread of nuclear weapons."

Greenpeace "calls on the world's governments to engage in a diplomatic process in the Middle East, instead of escalating the confrontation with Iran."

Forty activists attached a banner to the building reading: 'IAEA = Nuclear Power = Nuclear Bombs.'

A flying six meter (19 foot) long nuclear bomb with 'IAEA' on it flew above the IAEA venue and a nuclear missile with 'Nuclear Power = Nuclear Bombs' was deployed in front of the entrance.

"Nuclear power is not only dirty, dangerous and economically insane, it also generates the very materials that can be used for nuclear bombs," said Jan Vande Putte of Greenpeace.


Greenpeace demonstration at the opening of the IAEA General Council today makes the point that nuclear power and nuclear weapons go hand in hand. (Photo by Kurt Prinz courtesy Greenpeace)
Greenpeacers said the only solution to the current security and proliferation concerns in the Middle East is through the creation of a Nuclear Free Zone, a diplomatic process that will eliminate all weapons and nuclear technology in the region, and the rapid development of renewable energy. They support "the abandonment of so-called civil nuclear program because nuclear power equals nuclear bombs."

Inside the building, Dr. ElBaradei outlined a different approach to nuclear safety. He urged emphasis on broader national participation in international safety conventions, greater use of IAEA safety reviews, and enhanced coordination among the IAEA and international nuclear safety bodies to ensure that efforts are complementary and mutually reinforcing.

In areas of nuclear safety and security, the director general pointed to progress related to international conventions, safety standards, radiation protection, radioactive waste management, and the multi-agency Chernobyl Forum, which recently issued a landmark report on consequences of the 1986 accident.

Regarding nuclear security, ElBaradei said that the agency's activity has undergone "major expansion" over the past four years. "The agency must continue to promote a global nuclear safety regime," he said.

The head of Russia's Federal Nuclear Energy Agency, Alexander Rumyantsev, said the IAEA should create a mechanism for guaranteed fuel supplies to nations that give up their uranium enrichment programs. As leader of the Russian delegation to the IAEA general assembly, Rumyantsev said the mechanism could be established through bilateral intergovernmental agreements, the Russian news agency Novosti reports.


Alexander Rumyantsev heads Russia's Federal Nuclear Energy Agency. (Photo courtesy Minatom)
The Bushehr plant, the only ongoing nuclear cooperation project between Russia and Iran, will be implemented in strict compliance with international law and IAEA regulations, Rumyantsev said. The facility's first reactor is expected to be launched in 2006. Moscow and Tehran are cooperating under protocol on the supply of nuclear fuel and the return of waste.

But the IAEA Board of Governors Saturday decided to condemn Iran for "non-compliance" with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a first step towards a referral to the United Nations Security Council in November.

The Security Council may decide to impose sanctions on Iran, including an economic embargo and a comprehensive ban on nuclear experiments, meaning the construction of a second Bushehr reactor will have to be put on hold indefinitely.

Vice-President and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh said on Monday that the Board of Governors' resolution demonstrated how "politics drives" the IAEA.

Aqazadeh told the general conference delegates that the resolution is based on "an invalid legal precept, unjustified technical grounds and misguided political forecast."

"The issue of high enriched uranium, the only issue which could have raised proliferation concerns has been resolved," the Iranian official said. "It has been verified that the UEU particles have surfaced as the result of contamination."

"On the few remaining questions there has been progress, and resolving them does not hinge on Iran's cooperation alone," said Aqazadeh. "They require also cooperation from European states where individuals involved in the clandestine network are either under custody or surveillance."