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Reuters Thu Jun 1, 2006
Blix panel prods Israel, Iran on nuclear agenda
Thu Jun 1, 2006 22:00

Blix panel prods Israel, Iran on nuclear agenda By Irwin Arieff
Reuters Thu Jun 1, 2006 5:57 PM ET

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran and Israel should both end nuclear enrichment as part of a renewed drive to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, a panel led by former U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix said on Thursday.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission also recommended adopting a treaty banning nuclear testing by all nuclear powers that have not already done so, including the United States, China, India and Pakistan.

"The reality is that if the U.S. were to ratify, then China would. If China did, India would. If India did, Pakistan would. If Pakistan did, then Iran would. It would set in motion a good domino effect," Blix told a news conference.

The recommendations were among 60 offered by the panel, set up by Sweden's government three years ago to pump new life into global disarmament efforts and help free the world of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Blix was in New York to give the report to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who in a statement called on the international community to consider its findings.

The report could embarrass Israel, which has never admitted having nuclear arms and, unlike Iran, is not a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Blix led the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, for 16 years before heading the U.N. search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq just ahead of the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Blix said the panel felt efforts to convince Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium and other sensitive nuclear programs were too narrow.

If the focus were placed on all Middle Eastern states, "That would mean that Iran would refrain from this. It would also mean that Israel would commit itself not to make more plutonium. They are assumed to have about 200 nuclear weapons," Blix told reporters.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and other regional states would also be asked to refrain from enrichment, he added, which "would walk in the direction of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction rather than away from it."

The report was issued as major-power foreign ministers conferred in Vienna on a plan to increase pressure on Tehran to curb its nuclear ambitions, as called for by the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council.

Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, says it wants only to produce electricity but Western powers accuse it of using a civilian nuclear program as a cover for the production of atomic weapons.

Blix said the West should recognize Tehran might feel threatened by the presence of U.S. troops in nearby Iraq and Afghanistan. For that reason the commission said countries acknowledging nuclear arsenals should offer legally binding assurances to those countries without atomic arms that they will not come under nuclear attack. The West has so far refused to do this in the case of Iran.

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