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. US warns about danger of Iran withdrawing from nuclear treaty
VIENNA, May 9 (AFP) May 09, 2007
The United States warned Wednesday about the danger of Iran possibly withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the world's basic agreement against the spread of nuclear weapons.

"Disturbingly, since Iran's multiple and ongoing violations of its NPT obligations have come to light, its leaders have hinted that they too are considering withdrawal" as North Korea did from the treaty in 2003, US special representative Christopher Ford told a conference of 130 nations on improving the global pact.

Ford said "withdrawal from the treaty cannot be seen as excusing prior violations or ending international efforts to take any appropriate measures to address violations committed prior to withdrawal."

He said UN-given equipment could be taken back from a state pulling out of the NPT and the state could automatically be referred to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

The conference in Vienna on the 189-nation NPT is considering ways to fix the landmark treaty, which came into effect in 1970 and which many complain has a flaw since it allows states to peacefully develop technology that can also be used to make atom bombs.

North Korea developed nuclear weapons after withdrawing from the NPT.

The United States charges that Iran is secretly developing the atomic bomb.

Although Tehran says its nuclear program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity, it is under UN sanctions for defying a Security Council call for it to stop enriching uranium, which can be used as raw material for the bomb.

Iran has said it will honor NPT safeguards and not withdraw from the treaty, although officials have hinted a pull-out could happen if the crisis escalated.

The UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency had in February 2006 found Iran in violation of NPT safeguards for hiding sensitive nuclear work.

A Western diplomat told AFP the United States had brought up the withdrawal issue Wednesday to make sure Iran could not block this being part of the official record when the conference's conclusions are drawn on its closing day Friday.

The two-week meeting which opened April 30 has already been crippled by procedural wrangling. It is the first of a series of conferences to prepare for an overall review of the NPT in 2010.

French ambassador Jean-Francois Dobelle on Wednesday said "it may be considered that Iran is failing to comply with any of the conditions laid down in Article IV (of the NPT) for entitlement to exercise its right to nuclear energy."

Other speakers stressed the obligations of nuclear weapons states to give security guarantees to nations that forego developing atomic weapons.

"What is also required is for such states not to feel threatened by nuclear weapons," said South African ambassador Abdul Samad Minty.

"The granting of legally binding security assurances" would fulfill "the undertaking which should be given to the states that have voluntarily given up the nuclear-weapons option by becoming parties to the treaty," Minty said.

South Korean ambassador Dong-hee Chang said that since there was disagreement on such guarantees, called negative security assurances, states should strive to set up regional nuclear weapons free zones.

Meanwhile, former chief UN nuclear inspector Hans Blix told AFP here that world powers should agree to nuclear talks with Iran without imposing preconditions about Tehran's atomic work.

"You have carrots and sticks. In most cases, carrots are more effective than sticks," said Blix, who in 2002 headed a UN team tasked with conducting inspections for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

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