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Israel urged to open up atomic program

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has invited Israel to consider joining a global anti-nuclear arms pact and to place all its atomic facilities under his agency's inspections, an IAEA report said on Friday.
/ Source: Reuters

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has invited Israel to consider joining a global anti-nuclear arms pact and to place all its atomic facilities under his agency's inspections, an IAEA report said on Friday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report said Director General Yukiya Amano met with Israeli leaders during a visit to Israel last month to discuss an Arab-led push for the Jewish state to accede to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

By staying outside the treaty, Israel has maintained secrecy over a program widely believed to have yielded the Middle East's only atomic arsenal — seen as an irritant and threat among its neighbors.

The issue is expected to be debated again at IAEA board and general assembly meetings later this month in Vienna.

Last year, Arab countries backed by Iran won narrow backing for a non-binding assembly resolution urging Israel to join the NPT and asking Amano to consult "concerned states" on how to achieve this and report back to this month's meeting.

The IAEA report said Amano during his visit to Israel had conveyed the assembly's concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities and "invited Israel to consider to accede to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and to place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards", as requested by last year's resolution.

Israel has conditioned its joining the NPT on comprehensive Middle East peace — something unlikely when powers like Iran refuse to recognize the Jewish state.

Israel has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to end a dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions. The West suspects the Islamic Republic is covertly trying to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran denies this.

Israel regards Iran's nuclear program as a threat to its existence.

Iran set to retaliateIran's top military official lashed out on Friday, saying his country would retaliate by striking Israel's nuclear facility if its nuclear activities were hit by Israel.

"Our developed weapons can hit any part of the Zionist regime (Israel) ... We hope not to be forced to attack their nuclear facility," Iran's armed forces chief of staff Hassan Firouzabadi told the semi-official Mehr news agency.

Western powers, which see Iran as the region's main nuclear proliferation threat, have warned that singling out Israel could jeopardize broader steps aimed at banning weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Western diplomats say it could complicate a plan to hold a conference in 2012 to discuss banning weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Amano's report was published a day after Israeli and Palestinian leaders meeting in Washington agreed to a series of direct talks, seeking to forge the framework for a U.S.-backed peace deal within a year.

President Barack Obama, aiming to resolve one of the world's most intractable disputes, has set a goal of striking a deal within 12 months to create an independent Palestinian state that exists peacefully, side-by-side with the Jewish state.