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Nuclear watchdog image hurts IAEA – incoming chief


Nuclear watchdog image hurts IAEA – incoming chief

VIENNA-july 11 – The International Atomic Energy Agency’s predominant image as a nuclear watchdog — played up by the West — has weakened the IAEA by dividing rich and poor member states, its incoming head said in an interview on Friday.

Japan’s Yukiya Amano vowed not to shrink from pursuing cases of alleged nuclear proliferation, like Iran, but suggested this policing role had come to overshadow the agency’s other duty to foster development through peaceful uses of the atom.

“One of (its) weaknesses is that the IAEA is perceived as a nuclear watchdog,” Amano said in his first international media interview since narrowly winning election on July 2 to succeed Mohamed ElBaradei.

“That is not all it is. It is a dual objective organisation. But it is not recognised, perceived as such. And that is one of the causes of mistrust and division,” Amano, 62, Japan’s veteran IAEA ambassador, told Reuters.

Amano said balancing the IAEA’s priorities was crucial to shoring up its credibility among rich and poor member states.

Developing nations fear a campaign by U.S.-led big powers to stop Iran’s uranium enrichment work without hard proof of a bomb agenda will undo their right to a share of nuclear technology and are concerned the agency is not doing enough to uphold it.

Iran has exploited this grievance at the core of rich-poor tensions in the IAEA by asserting that “arrogant” powers bent on halting its nuclear programme want only to stunt its development and preserve inequality rooted in colonial times.

“If I can make some contribution to changing the perception (of the IAEA mainly as a watchdog), it will be helpful in strengthening confidence in the agency,” Amano said.

“That does not mean I will shy away from difficult, very serious issues like Iran or North Korea. I will do my utmost (to tackle them),” the soft-spoken, deliberate diplomat said.


Amano, who told Reuters in February Iran should be treated with respect through dialogue, was backed mainly by industrialised nations in narrowly prevailing over a South African rival in the IAEA leadership vote.

Western backers privately say they count on him to take a tougher line on applying nuclear safeguards than ElBaradei, who rankled the United States and close allies by advocating negotiated compromise over sanctions against Tehran.

But Amano said suggestions he would do the bidding of a few big powers by having the IAEA focus foremost on stemming the spread of sensitive nuclear know-how were “completely mistaken”.

He cited his role in Japan’s longtime record of aid and investment helping to modernise the developing world.

“Saying this is priority number one and this is priority number two is not my approach. Certainly (anti-proliferation) safeguards is one of those matters of highest priority, as well as peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”

Amano acknowledged that IAEA nuclear inspections suffered from the lack of legal authority to range beyond declared atomic plants to check suspicions of covert military diversions.

He said he would step up efforts to persuade all member states to ratify the IAEA’s now voluntary Additional Protocol covering wider-ranging inspections. “Making it mandatory is not on the agenda now. It would be (politically) difficult.”

Iran does not observe the protocol nor does Syria, something that has hampered IAEA investigations in both countries.

Amano also lent weight to expectations he would “depoliticise” the IAEA leadership after 12 years under his outspoken predecessor, ElBaradei, who dubbed himself the “Secular Pope” after winning the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

He told Reuters last week he’d seen no evidence in IAEA files that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons capability — despite ElBaradei’s “gut feeling” Iran was doing so.

“Objectivity and impartiality are very important before making a value judgment on anything,” Amano said. “If people believe I am impartial and professional, I can strengthen the agency. And that is absolutely needed now.”

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G8: Britain could cut nuclear stockpile, Gordon Brown says


G8: Britain could cut nuclear stockpile, Gordon Brown says

US july 10-brokered talks next year aimed at preventing nuclear proliferation could pave the way for Britain to reduce its 160-warhead arsenal in return for proof from aspiring nuclear states that they had stopped their weapons programmes.

President Barack Obama has invited as many as 30 nations to talks in Washington next March. The White House said the talks would focus on preventing the spread of nuclear material to rogue states and terrorist groups.

Talks could lead to more intrusive international inspections, and pressure for countries other than the US and Russia, which together account for 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons, to contribute to disarmament. Mr Obama earlier this week got the promise of a pact with Russia to reduce nuclear arms.

Speaking at the G8 summit in Italy, Mr Brown insisted there was no question of abandoning plans to replace the Trident weapons system. But he signalled that the number of British warheads and nuclear-armed submarines could be reduced as part of a new international agreement.

“What we need is collective action by the nuclear weapons powers to say that we are prepared to reduce our nuclear weapons, but we need assurances also that other countries will not proliferate them,” he said.

Mr Brown said the meeting could also help to draw up a replacement for the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Mr Brown said that the number of states with nuclear weapons had risen to nine from the treaty’s five original signers and that there was the “threat of a big rise in nuclear weapon states in this decade.”

He said: “The whole point of a non-proliferation treaty is those who have weapons will be looking at reducing them as far as possible.”

Mr Brown gave no details on the scale of any cuts in the British deterrent. However, a 2006 Government White Paper on replacing Trident committed Britain to reducing the number of warheads to fewer than 160. The Government has never specified what the new number will be, keeping the figure confidential.

However, Britain’s operational nuclear deterrent is routinely based on fewer than 50 warheads. A Vanguard-class submarine sails with a maximum of 48 warheads. There is normally only one submarine deployed on operational duty at any given time.

The Royal Navy has four Vanguard-class submarines capable of carrying Trident nuclear missiles. The Ministry of Defence is considering plans to cut that number to three when the Vanguards are replaced.

Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, announced this week that Labour, like the Conservatives, would hold a full Strategic Defence Review after the next election.

That raised doubts about the Trident replacement, but Mr Brown made clear he was not prepared to consider getting rid of all of Britain’s nuclear weapons, saying they remained vital to national security. He said: “Iran is attempting to build a nuclear weapon, North Korea is attempting to build a nuclear weapon. Unilateral action by the UK would not be seen as the best way.”

Russia and the US – which hold 90 per cent of the world’s warheads – made a preliminary agreement last week to cut their arsenals by as much as a third.

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