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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Nuclear watchdog 'ignores Israel'
Dimona nuclear plant in Israel
Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons
Arab states have accused the United Nations nuclear watchdog of holding back from criticising Israel.

Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was ignoring Israel's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

At the same time, they said, the agency was putting pressure on other countries to give up their nuclear programmes.

The IAEA is urging Iran to prove that its nuclear power plants are not being used to develop weapons-grade material.

North Korea was in a similar position until it withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Israel, unlike Iran and North Korea, has not signed the NPT. The Jewish state has never confirmed being a nuclear power, but is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons.

'Unacceptable'

Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said: "What surprises us is that at a time when the International Atomic Energy Agency is intensifying its efforts and monitoring (NPT) member countries... we see that it continues to ignore the rejection of Israel in not joining the treaty.

Prince Saud al-Faisal
Saudi Arabia has been a key US ally in the Gulf
"This constitutes a serious threat to the security and stability of the whole region."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said: "It is unacceptable that Israel's possession of such weapons should remain a reality that some prefer to ignore or prevent the international community... from facing it squarely and frankly."

Syria, which has been accused by the United States of developing chemical and biological weapons, hit back at Washington.

"A lot has been said lately about the dangers of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by countries that already have different types of such weapons," said Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa.

In a reference to the US-led war in Iraq, he said: "Some have even waged war under the pretext of eliminating these weapons."

Mr Sharaa added that it was "regrettable... that some quarters selectively choose to level their false accusations at some Arab and Islamic states but not on others, while simultaneously ignoring the Israeli arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons".

Tehran defiant

Under US pressure, the IAEA has given Iran until 31 October to prove it does not plan to develop nuclear weapons.

Europe and Russia have also increased pressure on Tehran to meet the deadline.

But Iran - which insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful - has said it will limit IAEA inspectors' access to declared nuclear sites when they arrive this week.

Tuesday saw the head of the IAEA, Mohammad ElBaradei, say that this was not good enough.

"If we cannot have full co-operation, full disclosure, unfortunately I'll have to say that I am not able to verify the Iranian statements."

The US is also leading efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.




SEE ALSO:
Iran sticks by nuclear programme
28 Sep 03  |  Middle East
N Korea repeats nuclear threat
30 Sep 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Syria seeks UN-backed arms ban
17 Apr 03  |  Middle East


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