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. Iran, NKorea under fire over nuclear activity at IAEA meet
VIENNA, Sept 29 (AFP) Sep 29, 2008
Iran and North Korea both came under fire over their contested nuclear activities on the first day of the UN atomic watchdog's general conference here Monday.

During the opening debate of the week-long meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Union, Britain, and Japan all lambasted Tehran and Pyongyang.

"The international community cannot accept the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons," French minister and government spokesman, Luc Chatel, told the IAEA's 145 member countries, speaking on behalf of the EU.

And the Japanese government's special envoy, Matsuda Iwao, warned that "the nuclear development undertaken by the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) is a threat to peace and security of not only Japan, but also of East Asia and the entire international community."

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei had already expressed similar concerns with regard to both countries during his opening address.

"I urge Iran to implement all the transparency measures ... required to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme at the earliest possible date," ElBaradei said.

"This will be good for Iran, good for the Middle East region and good for the whole world."

And of North Korea, ElBaradei said: "I still hope that conditions can be created for the DPRK to return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty at the earliest possible date."

The IAEA has been investigating Tehran's nuclear activities for the past six years, but has so far been unable to determine whether they are purely peaceful as Tehran claims.

In the case of North Korea, Pyongyang announced last week it was preparing to restart a nuclear reprocessing plant used to make weapons-grade material, asking the IAEA to remove seals and surveillance equipment and barring agency inspectors from the site.

British Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said: "We look to the North Korean authorities to take the earliest opportunities to resume cooperation with the agency and to implement its commitment to the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear programme."

Under a six-country pact announced in February 2007, North Korea agreed to disable and dismantle key nuclear facilities and allow inspectors to return in return for one million tonnes of fuel aid and its removal from a US list of countries supporting terrorism.

But North Korea announced last month it had halted the process in protest at Washington's refusal to drop it from the blacklist as had been promised.

Allegations that Syria was similarly engaged in illicit nuclear work also came up for discussion.

French minister Chatel said the EU was "concerned" that Syria had not yet responded to IAEA requests to visit suspect nuclear sites and he urged Damascus "to provide all the access requested and reply to all the agency's questions."

The United States has alleged Syria was building a covert nuclear facility at a remote desert site called Al-Kibar until it was destroyed by Israeli bombs in September 2007.

Damascus allowed a three-member team from the IAEA to visit Al-Kibar in June, but has since refused any follow-up visit.

Iran and Syria are in the spotlight at this year's general conference because they are seen as possible candidates for a seat on the IAEA's 35-member board following the expiry of Pakistan's one-year term.

The seat is to be allocated to another country within the so-called Middle East and South Asia (MESA) group.

But with both Iran and Syria currently in the dock over their purported clandestine nuclear work, the nomination of either by MESA would almost certainly run into resistance and could even go to a vote -- unprecedented at the general conference which traditionally decides by consensus.

Tehran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, was the last speaker to take the podium on Monday and he accused the United States of using the IAEA for its own political ends.

He insisted that UN sanctions would have "no effect on (Iran's) determination to pursue peaceful nuclear activities, including enrichment."

IAEA chief ElBaradei warned that the agency's work was being impeded by poor funding.

"Years of zero (real) growth budgets have left us with a failing infrastructure," he said.

"This is not just about money. We do not work in a political vacuum. Political commitment to the goals of the agency needs to be renewed at the highest level," ElBaradei said.

"It would be a tragedy of epic proportions if we fail to act (for lack of resources) until after a nuclear conflagration, accident or terrorist attack that could have been prevented."

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