US, Israel highlight Iran's nuclear weapons program
WASHINGTON (AFP) Jul 06, 2004
The United States and Israel highlighted Tuesday Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program as the UN's atomic energy agency moved to probe Tel Aviv's nuclear strength.

"Iran is the country that have announced that one missile toward Israel will destroy the Jewish state. So we should be concerned about the Iranians' efforts to develop nuclear weapon," Israel Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters after holding talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

He said that Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who arrived in Tel Aviv to persuade the government to reveal its nuclear secrets, should instead step up his probe on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Shalom charged that Iran, regarded as the Jewish state's number one enemy, was trying to develop "a new missile that will include Berlin, London and Paris, and the southern part of Russia in its range.

"So if we would have to do something with ElBaradei, is to ask him to continue with his efforts to push the Iranians to put an end to its effort to develop a nuclear weapon," Shalom said.

ElBaradei is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday, but the premier had earlier indicated that Israel's policy of refusing to confirm or deny that it has nuclear weapons would continue.

Most foreign experts believe that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal, comprising around 200 warheads, although it has stuck to a policy of "ambiguity" for the last 40 years.

Powell, speaking alongside Shalom, said the Bush administration had been pointing out Iran's nuclear weapon capability to the international community for the last three-and-a-half years.

He noted that European foreign ministers had made trips to Iran to convince it to give up its nuclear arms program but without much success "even though they have received some commitments which have been unfulfilled."

"So the United States will continue to press in every way that we can, use all of the diplomatic and other resources at our disposal, to make sure the international community stands unified behind the effort to stop Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons development, or worse, acquiring a nuclear weapon," Powell said.

Under an understanding with the United States dating back to 1969, Israel has committed itself to abstain from any comment on its nuclear potential and not carry out nuclear tests.

In return, Washington does not pressure Israel to adhere to the NPT, which would oblige its nuclear facilities to submit to international supervision by the IAEA.

Experts have said that ElBaradei's mission was more of a political gesture to convince Arab states the IAEA is as concerned about Israel as it is about Iran, being investigated on suspicions of harbouring a secret atomic weapons program.