Tue, Nov 09, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Nuclear strike by terrorists a matter of time: ElBaradei

AP , SYDNEY

The world is in a "race against time" to prevent nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorists, the chief of the UN's nuclear watchdog said yesterday.

Mohamed ElBaradei said the world was not ready to deal with a nuclear or radiological attack by terrorists and must hurry to strengthen international nonproliferation measures to prevent such as possibility.

"We are in a race against time because it is something we were not prepared for," said ElBaradei, the director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. "We have to cross our fingers that nothing will happen."

Speaking on the sidelines of an international conference on nuclear security, ElBaradei welcomed a tentative deal struck at the weekend between three European powers and Iran aimed at suspending the country's nuclear enrichment and reprocessing programs.

He called the preliminary agreement brokered in Paris between Iran and France, Germany and Britain "a step in the right direction."

The US and European powers fear Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons -- although Tehran denies such claims, saying its nuclear program is for energy production.

Washington and Europe want Iran to halt all uranium enrichment, a technology that can be used to produce fuel or weapons, and have warned they would seek UN Security Council sanctions if Tehran does not comply.

Months of intense diplomacy appeared close to bearing fruit with the announcement of the tentative agreement. The deal could be finalized in the next few days, chief Iranian negotiator Hossein Mousavian told Iranian television from Paris, where talks wrapped up Saturday.

"I would hope that this would lead to the desired outcome, which is Iran to suspend both its enrichment and reprocessing-related activities and open the way for normalization of Iran's relations with the international community starting with Europe," ElBaradei said.

In the agreement, Britain, Germany and France offered Tehran a trade deal and peaceful nuclear technology -- including a light-water research reactor -- if Iran pledges to indefinitely suspend uranium enrichment and all related activities, such as reprocessing uranium and building centrifuges used to enrich it.

Tehran suspended uranium enrichment last year but has refused to stop the related activities, saying its program is solely to produce fuel for nuclear power generation.

The two-day conference under way in Sydney was aimed at building cooperation to boost security at nuclear facilities in the Asia-Pacific region to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear material.

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