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UN atomic chief says supports US-India nuke deal
Updated: 2005-07-21 09:50

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said on Wednesday he supported a U.S. plan to help nuclear-armed India obtain atomic technology, despite fears the deal could damage global nuclear security.

In a statement, ElBaradei said he welcomed the agreement, under which President George W. Bush, in a dramatic policy shift, promised India full cooperation in developing its civilian nuclear programme.

In exchange, India said it would allow snap International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections of its civilian nuclear facilities.

"Making advanced civil nuclear technology available to all countries will contribute to the enhancement of nuclear safety and security," ElBaradei said.

File photo of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohammed ElBaradei briefing the media after an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna June 17, 2005.
File photo of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohammed ElBaradei briefing the media after an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna June 17, 2005. [Reuters/file]
The deal does not involve India signing the global pact against the spread of atomic weapons, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and must win the approval of U.S. Congress. India, like its nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan, has not signed the NPT.

ElBaradei's comments could help sway countries towards supporting the deal, which must happen for it to go ahead, said arms expert Joe Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a U.S. think-tank.

"ElBaradei is very well respected and his endorsement of the deal will influence other countries' opinions of it," he said.

Experts said the deal would have to win the backing of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a 44-nation alliance of top nuclear exporters that polices global sales of materials and equipment that could be used in atomic weapons.

The NSG bars sales to states that do not have international safeguards on all their nuclear facilities, they said, and India has only pledged to accept safeguards on its civilian facilities. An exemption would therefore have to be granted.

"Out of the box thinking and active participation by all members of the international community are important if we are to advance nuclear arms control, non-proliferation, safety and security, and tackle new threats such as illicit trafficking in sensitive nuclear technology and the risks of nuclear terrorism," ElBaradei said.


Opponents of the plan, including nuclear experts, say Bush's proposal undermines global nuclear safeguards.

Some say it sets a bad example to Iran, which wants greater access to nuclear technology but Washington accuses of having a secret nuclear weapons programme, and North Korea.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Washington on Tuesday that his country had an impeccable track record on non-proliferation and would not spread sensitive technology.

The father of Pakistan's atom bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, set up a nuclear black market that supplied Iran and Libya with equipment usable in bomb-making.

David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and head of a U.S.-based think-tank, said India was not able to deliver on its promise.

"India does not have an adequate export control system to do what it's fundamentally promised the United States, namely to prevent the export of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear technology, out of its country," he said.

ElBaradei welcomed India's decision to open up some sites to inspections.

"I have always advocated concrete and practical steps towards the universal application of IAEA safeguards," he said.

The agreement does not, however, provide for inspections of India's military sites.

"Inspections of civilian facilities mean very little as long as India's military facilities are pumping out plutonium for nuclear weapons," Joe Cirincione said.

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