Nuclear Monitor Sees Treaties Weakening
May 15, 2004
The New York Times
The chief international nuclear weapons monitor warned yesterday that the intricate web of treaties and agreements that limit the spread of nuclear weapons was weakening and could be endangered unless sweeping reforms to the system were made in the United Nations Security Council and elsewhere.
Speaking at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he and President Bush had discussed at the White House working jointly toward a package of measures to bolster the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and on other reforms that he called crucial to stopping the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
Specifically, he said, he and the Bush administration had discussed a proposal to spend between $50 million and $100 million over the next five years to better guard stockpiles of highly enriched uranium in atomic power reactors and other sources throughout the world. Experts have warned that terrorists who obtained such material could use it to make nuclear or radiological weapons.
He said Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham of the United States would travel to the atomic agency's headquarters in Vienna this month to announce details of the program.
Jeanne Lopatto, spokeswoman for the Energy Department, confirmed that the administration was developing a plan to "accelerate and expand efforts to secure and remove high-risk nuclear and radiological materials.''
Dr. ElBaradei said Mr. Bush and he had also agreed on the need to supplement the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the main treaty that seeks to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, and to strengthen both the agency's ability to inspect suspect nuclear facilities and international controls on sales of nuclear technology. Both agreed, he added, on the need to penalize states that opt out of the treaty after acquiring nuclear equipment under the guise of a peaceful program.
He said there was further agreement on the need to find a way to deny countries that refuse to sign the treaty, or those that are suspected of cheating on it, access to technology that enriches uranium or reprocesses fuel that has been used in peaceful nuclear reactors. Such material can also be used in nuclear bombs.
Although he said Mr. Bush and he had disagreed about "some approaches and specific proposals," he said he was struck by the substantial degree of agreement about the need for urgent reform. This assertion by Dr. ElBaradei, an Egyptian citizen who studied law in New York, surprised several who heard the speech, given previous tensions between the atomic agency and the administration over the invasion of Iraq and over charges by some in the administration that the agency has been too tolerant of nuclear cheating and other treaty violations by member nations like Iran.
Dr. ElBaradei said that his agency was not ready to state that Iran was not using its peaceful nuclear program to acquire nuclear weapons, but that Tehran was now cooperating more fully with his agency than it had in the past. In a brief telephone interview after his speech, he said that although he expected to receive a "good deal of information" from Iran in the next two weeks, he did not know whether Iran would clear up questions about its nuclear program in time for his agency's board of governors meeting in June.
He said that while Iran had the technology to enrich uranium, he had no proof that such uranium had been processed to a level adequate to make a nuclear bomb.
"We will close the file when we have dealt with all the issues that require to be investigated," he said.
Iran has been pressing the monitoring agency to state that it does not have a nuclear weapons program, while the Bush administration has been pushing the agency to go to the Security Council with a resolution to punish Tehran for withholding information about its nuclear activities.
Dr. ElBaradei also said North Korea's announcement that it was withdrawing from the nuclear weapons treaty posed one of the most significant challenges to international efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. He expressed disappointment that the United Nations Security Council had failed to act against North Korea in connection with over a decade of the agency's complaints about that country's nuclear activities. The Council's lack of action, he said "has not been optimum."
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Dr. ElBaradei's remarks reflected the growing recognition that the nonproliferation system that had served the world well during the cold war was now unraveling. "There's a consensus that something needs to be done," he said. "But there's not yet consensus on what needs to be done."
" the growing recognition that the nonproliferation system that had served the world well during the cold war was now unraveling. "There's a consensus that something needs to be done," he said. "But there's not yet consensus on what needs to be done." "
And at this rate, there won't be a consensus until it's too late.