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IAEA chief to visit Israel
Updated: 2004-07-04 12:47

UN nuclear watchdog chief Muhammad al-Baradai will be visiting Israel next Tuesday to press for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

The visit by the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is significant, particularly since Israel is widely believed to have a clandestine nuclear weapons arsenal.

Although Israel refuses to either confirm or deny it has the bomb, it is suspected of having up to 200 nuclear weapons.

But al-Baradai last week said Israel should "clarify" its nuclear activities and start working towards ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky on Saturday said Israel's supposed nuclear arsenal would figure prominently during talks with al-Baradai.

Little optimism

But Israeli analyst Gerald Steinberg said al-Baradai was unlikely to make much headway in his effort.

Steinberg pointed out that Israel was not about to change its ambiguous policy and sign on to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that mandates the IAEA to verify atomic activities worldwide.

"There is no foundation for a change" since "the threat to Israel has not diminished much in the past five decades and hatred of Israel in the Arab and Muslim worlds remains intense."

An optimistic al-Baradai, however, said "the message we need at the end of the day is to rid the Middle East of all weapons of mass destruction. Israel agrees with that. They say that has to be in the context of a peace agreement."

The IAEA chief said that rather than waiting there should be a "parallel dialogue on security andĄ­the peace process. I donĄ¯t think you'll have peace without people understanding what sort of security structure you will have."

Next Tuesday's visit to Israel would be al-Baradai's first visit to the country in six years.

The visit follows the release from prison earlier this year of Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu.

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