Iran, North Korea and US nuclear ambitions mark non-proliferation anniversary
VIENNA (AFP) Dec 07, 2003
A bid by the United States to develop a new type of nuclear bomb and concern over the nuclear activities of Iran and North Korea mark the 50th anniversary of the first call to create a watchdog to stem nuclear arms proliferation.

US President Dwight D. Eisenhower on December 8, 1953 in a speech to the UN General Assembly urged the creation of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warning that the know-how to make nuclear weapons "will eventually be shared by others, possibly all others."

"From the day of Eisenhower's speech, we moved from two countries that have nuclear weapons to eight and possibly nine," IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei said in an interview at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna this week.

"The message should be clear that nuclear weapons have no place in our defense arsenals and we are committed to developing an alternative system of security."

But the message may not be getting through.

Last week, US President George W. Bush signed a bill approving 7.5 million dollars for a study on developing "bunker-busting" nuclear bombs, intended to enhance Washington's ability to destroy underground command and control centers and hidden arms depots.

Two weeks ago, the IAEA condemned Iran for 18 years of covert nuclear activities but stopped short of bowing to US demands that Tehran be hauled before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

And last year, North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors after admitting that it was running a uranium-enrichment programme in violation of a 1994 accord.

ElBaradei said the signing of the addition protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows the IAEA to conduct snap inspection on nuclear facilities, is key to preventing a nuclear arms race.

"It is not sufficient that we only have 20 percent of the countries sign the additional protocol (when) we know that without the protocol we cannot do comprehensive verification," ElBaradei said.

Snap inspections have been central to the IAEA's efforts at determining whether Iran has used its uranium-enrichment programme to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran has not yet signed the additional protocol despite repeated promises.

Beyond snap inspections, ElBaradei called for a new NPT protocol that would create "multi-national control" over highly-enriched uranium and reprocessed plutonium -- materials which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

"The most critical part of acquiring (nuclear) weapons remains the acquisition of weapons-usable material," ElBaradei warned, adding that the new protocol would give the NPT "more teeth."

Besides more stringent control, the IAEA chief said a radical shift is in order in the way nations view nuclear weapons, which he said are still considered as "weapons of deterrence" and "possibly a weapon to be used."

"We still live in an environment where nuclear weapons are looked at as weapons that have prestige and status that come with" them, ElBaradei said.

"Ideally, I'd like to see the way we perceive nuclear weapons as the way we perceive slavery or genocide," he said.

"If we continue on the same road, we might not be surprised to see more countries acquiring nuclear weapons."

Besides the five declared nuclear powers -- the US, Russia, France, Britain and China -- India, Pakistan and Israel have acquired nuclear arsenals and the IAEA says it cannot rule out the possibility that North Korea possesses one too.