- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

VIENNA, Austria — More than 40 countries with peaceful nuclear programs could retool them to make weapons, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said yesterday amid new U.S. and European demands that Iran give up technology capable of producing such arms.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), suggested in a keynote address to the agency’s general conference that it was time to tighten world policing of nuclear activities and to stop relying on information volunteered by countries.

Beyond the declared nuclear arms-holding countries, “some estimates indicate that 40 countries or more now have the know-how to produce nuclear weapons,” Mr. ElBaradei said. “We are relying primarily on the continued good intentions of these countries, intentions, which … could … be subject to rapid change.”

His comments appeared prompted by a series of revelations of proliferation or suspected illicit nuclear activities over the past two years.

Libya last year revealed a clandestine nuclear arms program and announced it would scrap it; North Korea is threatening to activate a weapons program; Iran is being investigated for what the United States says is evidence it was trying to make nuclear arms; and South Korea recently said it conducted secret experiments with plutonium and enriched uranium, both possible components of weapons programs.

Mr. ElBaradei linked the need for strengthened controls to concerns about the international nuclear black market, which supplied both Iran and Libya and whose existence was proved last year.

The “relative ease with which a multinational illicit network could be set up and operate demonstrates clearly the inadequacy” of the present controls on nuclear exports, he said.

Mr. ElBaradei did not name the countries capable of quickly turning peaceful nuclear activities into weapons programs. But more than a dozen European countries with either power-producing nuclear reactors or large-scale research reactors are among them, as well as Canada and countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Most peaceful nuclear programs use enriched uranium — a substance that when processed to levels of enrichment above 90 percent can be used to make nuclear warheads — as a power source. Most countries also could extract plutonium from spent fuel for nuclear weapons use.

Iran’s enrichment program has been the focus of increased world concern because of suspicions Tehran may not be telling the truth when it says it is interested in the technology only to generate power.

A resolution passed unanimously Saturday by the IAEA governing board demanded for the first time that Iran freeze all work on uranium enrichment. Suggesting that Iran may have to answer to the U.N. Security Council if it defies the demands, the resolution said the next board meeting in November “will decide whether or not further steps are appropriate” in ensuring Iran complies.

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