IAEA chief urges Israel to drop nuclear arms warns of regional race
JERUSALEM (AFP) Dec 12, 2003
International Atomic Energy AgencyDirector General Mohamed ElBaradei urged Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal, claiming it spurred a regional arms race, in an interview published Friday by Haaretz.

He called for discussions to be engaged between Israel and its regional neighbours in order to establish a de-nuclearised area and avoid further development of weapons of mass destruction.

"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," ElBaradei told the liberal Israeli daily.

He deplored Israel's refusal to open the dialogue before its Arab neighbours recognise the Jewish state, arguing that signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) could engender the trust needed for progress.

"I am not happy with the status quo, because I see a lot of frustration in the Middle East due to Israel's sitting on nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons capability, while other in the Middle East are committed to the NPT," he said.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied having nuclear arms, but Washington has accepted it as a nuclear power since 1969 and analysts say it has up to 200 sophisticated nuclear weapons.

Israel is reluctant to take any conciliatory moves and charges that Iran's own nuclear programme is the biggest threat to its security.