Monday, April 16, 2007

ElBaradei backs calls for no-nukes Middle East

'This is the last chance to build security ... based on trust and cooperation'

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Monday, April 16, 2007

UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei called on Iran and Israel on Sunday to join a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East and urged other countries not to resort to military action against Tehran. "At the end of the day the Middle East should be a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, a zone in which Israel and Iran are both members," ElBaradei said following talks in Jordan with King Abdullah II.

"This is the last chance to build security in the Middle East based on trust and cooperation and not the possession of nuclear weapons," the International Atomic Energy Agency chief was quoted as saying.

ElBaradei said a peace deal between Israel and its Arab neighbors "must be reached in parallel with a security agreement in the region based on ridding the region of all weapons of mass destruction."

Israel is considered the sole, albeit undeclared, nuclear power in the region with an arsenal of around 200 warheads.

ElBaradei also noted that "Arab countries have joined the [nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty, while Israel hasn't."

He said there was an "imbalance" in the nuclear capabilities of Israel and the Arab countries. Israel, he said, "has a nuclear deterrent force while all Arab countries have committed their program to peaceful purposes."

He reiterated calls for Iran "to cooperate with us with sufficient transparency until we make sure that the Iranian program is devoted to peaceful purposes."

"We have not seen that this program is devoted to military purposes and we have not seen underground facilities," he said.

But he added: "There is fear over Iran's future intentions, not today but within the next five to 10 years.

"We still have plenty of time to solve this issue peacefully, [and] the only way to solve the Iranian problem is through negotiations," ElBaradei said, dismissing a possible military option concerning Iran as "unrealistic and disastrous."

ElBaradei is in Jordan to discuss the country's desire to obtain nuclear energy to generate electricity and for other peaceful means. Amman is the third leg of a tour that has also taken him to Saudi Arabia and Oman.

King Abdullah, during closed-door talks with ElBaradei, promised that his country will be a model for nuclear energy it plans to develop for what it insists are peaceful means.

Jordan, an IAEA member and signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, "will set a model for others in the peaceful use of nuclear energy," Abdullah said, according to the official Petra new agency.

Petra quoted ElBaradei as saying his "agency was ready to help Jordan to benefit from nuclear energy for peaceful purposes." He said the IAEA would dispatch a team to Jordan next week to look into its plans.

Abdullah said the kingdom's nuclear program would only be for "peaceful uses, generating electricity and desalinating water," according to Petra. He said his country needed to develop the technology to diversify its energy sources, mainly due to rising oil prices.

In January, Abdullah publicly announced for the first time that he wanted to develop Jordan's nuclear capabilities for peaceful purposes. Several regional states, including the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council - which consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - as well as Egypt and Turkey have declared similar intentions.

Abdullah's announcement came in an interview with an Israeli newspaper, a move seen by some as designed to reassure Israel, with which Jordan has a peace treaty, that his nuclear program was not aimed against the Jewish state.

Key US allies, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have expressed concerns over Iran's nuclear ambitions and the growing Shiite influence in the region. They claim the Shiite influence is boosting Iran and giving rise to more extremism, while jeopardizing an Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation and threatening their own states.

Jordan also has real energy concerns. Unlike its Gulf Arab neighbors, Jordan now imports 95 percent of all of its energy needs and once depended on Iraq for all its oil supplies.

Abdullah said he wants to see Jordan set up a nuclear power plant by 2015 and viewed nuclear energy as a clear alternative to importing oil for such purposes.

The desert kingdom is also one of the 10 most water poor countries in the world. Official estimates put its water deficit at more than 30 percent of its available resources. - Agencies

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