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. Iran, Israel and nuclear fuel bank top issues at IAEA conference
VIENNA, Sept 17 (AFP) Sep 17, 2006
The UN nuclear watchdog opens a general conference Monday that will be dominated by the crisis over Iran's atomic ambitions and an Arab push against Israel allegedly having nuclear weapons.

The week-long gathering of the 140 nations of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency comes with the United States seeking United Nations sanctions against Iran for violating a UN deadline, verified by the IAEA, for Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.

EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana and Iranian top nuclear EU negotiator Ali Larijani are at the same time pursuing a last-ditch effort to strike a nuclear deal that will lead to negotiations instead of sanctions.

The IAEA conference will include a three-day "special event" on how to guarantee supplies of nuclear reactor fuel -- such as enriched uranium which can also be atom bomb material -- while reducing the risks of weapons proliferation.

US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, former US senator Sam Nunn and Russian atomic agency director Sergei Kirienko will attend the event, as well as the conference. Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh is coming to the conference, IAEA spokesman Peter Rickwood said.

One idea is to have a nuclear fuel bank that would free nations from the need to make enriched uranium "at a time when concerns about nuclear proliferation are growing," the IAEA said in a press release.

Both the United States and Russia have announced their willingness to make nuclear material available for such a fuel bank.

"I want to make sure that every country that is a bona fide user of nuclear energy and that is fulfilling its non-proliferation obligations is getting fuel," IAEA chied Mohamed ElBaradei said in the press release.

On the Middle East issue, "it looks as if the pot could finally boil over this year," a Western diplomat said about Arab efforts to get a resolution passed at the conference on "Israeli capability and threat."

In past years, Arab countries have attacked the Jewish state for allegedly possessing nuclear weapons and tried to pass this resolution, which asks Israel, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to place its atomic facilities under NPT safeguards.

Israel neither confirms nor denies reports that it has some 200 atom bombs.

The debate over this has given Middle Eastern states a chance to use the IAEA conference as a chance to vent their frustration over Iran's being attacked for having alleged nuclear capabilities while the IAEA does not act similarly against Israel.

Traditionally, a resolution is introduced but then withdrawn and postponed to the following year, in return for Israel agreeing to a call for a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the Middle East.

But a Middle Eastern diplomat said "this year will be different."

The diplomat said that "many are fed up with double standards," especially as Iran has been referred to the United Nations Security Council.

In addition, there are "regional circumstances," the diplomat said, referring to Israel's bombardment of Lebanon, which has made Arab nations furious.

"Because of these things, it is only fair that Israel be put under the spotlight," the diplomat said.

In other matters, North Korea, which expelled IAEA inspectors in December 2002 and then withdrew from the NPT the following month, is also expected to be discussed.

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