Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 7 News List

UN challenges N Korea, Iran on nukes

GENERAL ASSEMBLY North Korea again blamed US `hostility,' while Iran said it was negotiating after the UN's atomic energy head asked for proof of their peaceful intent


Challenged by the UN nuclear chief to prove their nuclear programs are peaceful, North Korea said it would scrap its "nuclear deterrence" if the US ended its hostile policy and Iran said negotiations with three European countries may "bring fruit."

But North Korea's deputy UN Ambassador Kim Chang Guk on Monday totally rejected the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), calling it "a political tool of the superpower."

He also accused Japan of allowing US nuclear weapons on its soil and South Korea of harboring nuclear ambitions -- allegations both countries vehemently denied.

Iran's deputy UN Ambassador Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi was less strident, but stressed that Tehran "is determined to pursue its inalienable rights to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

He also criticized the international community for targeting Iran's nuclear program while saying nothing about Israel's.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei challenged both countries in his annual report to the UN General Assembly, urging Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program "as a confidence building measure" and North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program or at least allow inspections to ensure it is "exclusively peaceful."

He expressed hope that Iran will decide to suspend enrichment before the IAEA board meets in Vienna, Austria on Nov. 25.

Britain, Germany and France have warned that most European countries would back the US' call to refer Iran to the UN Security Council -- where it could face possible sanctions -- if the Iranian government does not abandon all enrichment activities before the board meeting.

Uranium enriched to a low level can be used to produce nuclear fuel for electricity-generating plants, but if enriched further can be used to make atomic weapons.

Iran is not prohibited from enriching uranium under its obligations to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, but is barred from arms-related work.

Danesh-Yazdi said Iran has a right "to develop, research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."

But he told the General Assembly that Tehran has voluntarily suspended enrichment activities since last November.

"Iran is also currently engaged in negotiations with France, Germany and Britain to reach mutual objective assurances on nuclear cooperation, transparency and non-diversion" of nuclear material, he said. "These negotiations will bring fruit if mutual understanding, political will and good faith prevail."

At the moment, there aren't any negotiations taking place on North Korea's program -- and the IAEA hasn't conducted any inspections in the country since December 2002.

ElBaradei said he was frustrated that six-nation talks involving the US, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas were not moving faster.

The goal is to negotiate a deal for the communist regime to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for economic help and security guarantees.

But the process is at a standstill because North Korea refused to show up for talks scheduled for September.

"I'm telling the North Koreans again that the international community is ready to look into your security concerns, ready to look into your economic and humanitarian needs," ElBaradei told reporters. "But a prerequisite is for them to commit themselves to full, verifiable, dismantlement of their weapons program -- as they say they have a weapons program."

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