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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 April, 2004, 12:46 GMT 13:46 UK
UN nuclear chief to visit Israel
Mohamed ElBaradei
Mr ElBaradei's trip to Israel will be his first in six years
The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, is to visit Israel later this year.

A spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said he was likely to travel to the country in July although an agenda was not finalised.

Israel has never confirmed or denied it has nuclear weapons, although it is widely believed to possess them.

In December, Mr ElBaradei urged Israel - a member of the IAEA - to surrender its alleged nuclear weapons.

He said in an Israeli newspaper that the IAEA operated on the assumption that Israel did have nuclear weapons.

He told Haaretz that such weapons were not "an incentive for security" and urged Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Israel's permanent representative to the IAEA, Gabriella Gafni, described Mr ElBaradei's visit as routine.

"He has had an open invitation from us for some time now," she said.

An IAEA statement said: "[Mr ElBaradei] would intend to use such a trip to... promote non-proliferation and a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East as well as to discuss bilateral co-operation in nuclear sciences and applications."

Although Israel is a member of the IAEA, it has never signed the NPT, designed to prevent the global spread of nuclear weapons.

As a result, Israel is not subject to inspections and the threat of sanctions by the IAEA.

'Double standards'

Israel has said simply that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the region.

Some experts believe it to be the world's sixth largest nuclear power.

Dimona plant in Israel (aerial photo)
Vanunu revealed that the Dimona plant built and housed nuclear weapons
Its Arab neighbours have frequently accused the international community of double standards - for requiring them to be free of nuclear weapons while doing little, in their eyes, about Israel.

In December, Mr ElBaradei said the belief that Israel would be safer because it possessed such weapons was false, as other Middle Eastern countries felt threatened by their presence.

"My fear is that, without such a dialogue, there will be continued incentive for the region's countries to develop weapons of mass destruction to match the Israeli arsenal," he said.

Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician who revealed the extent of Israel's nuclear weapons programme in the mid-1980's, was released from jail on 21 April having served an 18-year sentence.

On release he called for Mr ElBaradei to come to Israel to inspect Israel's controversial nuclear site at Dimona.

The BBC's Matthew Price in Jerusalem says that, on his last trip to Israel six years ago, Mr ElBaradei did not tour Dimona. It is not yet known if he will do so this time.

The BBC's Matthew Price
"Israel has never confirmed or denied whether or not it has nuclear weapons"

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