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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN nuclear chief calls for new approaches to fight proliferation

14 June 2006 The head of the United Nations atomic watchdog today called for fresh approaches to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the possibility of their falling into the hands of terrorists, outlining a multinational framework to control access to the sensitive technologies of uranium enrichment and plutonium separation.

“Either we begin finding creative, outside-the-box solutions or the international nuclear safeguards regime will become obsolete,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, the latest in a series of similar calls he has made this year.

The approaches he urged include a recommitment to disarmament, moving away from national security strategies that rely on nuclear weapons, which serve as a constant stimulus for other nations to acquire them.

Second, he called for tightened controls on the proliferation-sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle. “By bringing multinational control to any operation that enriches uranium or separates plutonium, we can lower the risk of these materials being diverted to weapons,” he said. A parallel step would be to create a mechanism to ensure a reliable supply of reactor fuel to bona fide users, including a fuel bank under IAEA control.

He added that a third area was more problematic: how to deal creatively with the three countries that remain outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – Pakistan and India, both holders of nuclear arsenals, and Israel, which maintains an official policy of ambiguity but is believed to be nuclear-weapons-capable.

“However fervently we might wish it, none of these three is likely to give up its nuclear weapons or the nuclear weapons option outside of a global or regional arms control framework,” he wrote. “Our traditional strategy – of treating such states as outsiders – is no longer a realistic method of bringing these last few countries into the fold.”

He referred at length to the recent nuclear technology exchange agreement between the United States and India, noting that if handled properly it will be a first step forward for both India and the international community.

“India will get safe and modern technology to help lift more than 500 million people from poverty, and it will be part of the international effort to combat nuclear terrorism and rid our world of nuclear weapons,” he said of the accord, which brings India’s civilian nuclear facilities under international safeguards.

“As we face the future, other strategies must be found to enlist Pakistan and Israel as partners in nuclear arms control and non-proliferation,” he added.

The IAEA announced today that a framework to strengthen controls over access to uranium enrichment and plutonium separation, essential ingredients for nuclear bombs, would be the focus of a special event on 19 and 20 September at the Agency’s General Conference in Vienna.

With sensitive nuclear technology in “too many hands,” the Special Event will examine options to bring facilities capable of producing weapon-usable nuclear material under multinational control. “With some 35-49 countries ‘in the know,’ the margin of security under the current non-proliferation regime has become too slim for comfort,” Mr. ElBaradei said.

In a speech to the graduating class at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington last month, Mr. ElBaradei said it was up to the new generation to develop an alternative system of collective security based not on the build-up of armaments but on addressing root causes of insecurity ranging from poverty and repression to unresolved conflicts.

And in accepting the International Four Freedoms award presented by the Roosevelt Stichting Foundation Middelburg, the Netherlands, earlier in May, he noted that many of the world’s ills could be eliminated for less than a third of the global annual expenditure on armaments, dismissing the current global approach to security as dysfunctional and urging a new emphasis on universal freedoms to eliminate extremism and terrorism.

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