Israel in Focus at IAEA Conference

A04461995.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- The UN nuclear watchdog’s annual conference started Monday with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Islamic countries railing against Israel’s nuclear program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 145 member countries gathered in Vienna for the 52nd general conference, an annual week-long meeting for drawing up general policies on a whole range of issues, from non-proliferation, nuclear terrorism to medical applications of nuclear technology.

This year, however, proceedings look set to be dominated by two key issues: the Non-Aligned Movement and Islamic countries’ anger over Israel’s nuclear weapons, and the possible candidature of either Iran or Syria for a seat on the IAEA’s 35-member board.

Israel is widely believed to be the only country in the Middle East to possess nuclear arms, but it refuses to open up its program to international inspections.

In the past two years, Islamic countries have put a resolution urging all Middle East nations to refrain from testing or developing nuclear arms. It urges nuclear weapons states “to refrain from any action” hindering a Middle East nuclear-free zone.

Last year, they even singled out Israel as a “nuclear threat” in a separate resolution.

The issue could come to a head again this year, since the Non-Aligned Movement and Arab states have again tabled an item this time entitling it “Israeli nuclear capabilities”.

An informed source told FNA that the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement aim to put the Israeli issue on the agenda of the conference and that the move has received a good backing from the Arab League and other Muslim states.

“In their last week meeting, the Non-Aligned Movement member states approved that, in addition to the clause pertaining to the ‘nuclear-free Middle-East’, a separate clause addressing the Israeli nuclear capability be included in the agenda of the (IAEA) meeting,” the source told FNA.

“The contents of this clause was ratified by the NAM member states attending the IAEA meeting a few days ago and the Cuban ambassador has presented it in the form of a formal letter to the IAEA to include it in the working agenda of the annual meeting (of the UN nuclear watchdog),” he added.

The next key issue looks set to be the candidature of Iran and Syria for a possible seat on the IAEA board.

Board members are designated and elected each year by the general conference.

And a seat is set to become free this year with 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. Diplomats close to the IAEA have told AFP there are four possible candidates: Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan.

MESA has until the end of the general conference to decide on a single candidate and the choice is normally adopted by consensus.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, diplomats said that the United States would not be happy if MESA decided to name either Syria or Iran as their candidate for a seat on the board.

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