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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

IAEA says Israel's nuclear status none of its concern

RIA Novosti

13/12/2006 16:24 VIENNA, December 13 (RIA Novosti) - The UN nuclear watchdog said Wednesday it will not respond to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's remark implying that Israel has nuclear weapons, something the Jewish state has never officially admitted.

In an interview with the SAT-2 television channel ahead of his visit to Germany Monday, Olmert said: "Iran openly, explicitly and publicly threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is on the same level, when you aspire to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia?"

The remark, made against the backdrop of an Iran-hosted conference on the Holocaust, was widely interpreted as confirming Israel's nuclear power status, but Olmert's aides later dismissed that reading as unfounded.

Independent analysts have said Israel holds between 80 and 200 nuclear warheads, and may be the world's sixth-largest nuclear power, but Israeli authorities have never confirmed nor denied possessing a nuclear arsenal.

Israel and the West suspect Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons program, and Olmert's hint was probably intended to deter the Islamic Republic from using its potential nuclear capability against Israel, some have argued.

Many analysts believe, however, that public confirmation of Israel's assumed nuclear status could trigger an arms race across the Middle East, undermining the global non-proliferation regime.

Sergei Markov of Russia's Public Chamber, for one, believes that Israel's going public about its nuclear arsenal would come as no revelation, and is unlikely to entail any sanctions on the part of the UN nuclear watchdog, but that it could represent a serious setback for non-proliferation.

"This may lead to a further softening of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, which, unfortunately, would be a very dangerous development indeed," Markov told RIA Novosti.

Iran and other regional foes of Israel have repeatedly accused the West of double standards in trying to prevent them from acquiring nuclear capabilities while turning a blind eye to Israel's alleged arsenal.



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