Originally Published in U.N. Wire

UNITED NATIONS — Saying “recent events have made it clear that the nonproliferation regime is under growing stress,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, yesterday suggested limiting the processing and production of nuclear materials that can be used for bombs and placing facilities under international control.

In presenting his annual report to the General Assembly, El Baradei said, “In light of the increasing threat of proliferation, both by states and terrorists, one idea that may now be worth serious consideration is the advisability of limiting the processing of weapon-usable material in civilian nuclear programs, as well as the production of new material through reprocessing and enrichment, by agreeing to restrict these operations exclusively to facilities under multilateral control.”

“Weapon-usable material” is plutonium and highly enriched uranium.

Countries seeking nuclear weapons, most famously Iraq, have historically called their nuclear programs peaceful while developing a weapons capacity. ElBaradei’s proposal would build on recent initiatives to make it harder to disguise a weapons program as a source of energy for a country. One of those initiatives is the Additional Protocol to the IAEA safeguards agreements nations sign as part of their Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty commitment. The protocol allows the agency to conduct inspections of undeclared as well as declared nuclear sites.

After it became clear in the early 1990s that Iraq had pursued a secret nuclear weapon development program while deceiving the IAEA inspectors working in the country under the NPT, “the international community committed itself to provide the agency the authority to strengthen its verification capability” by expanding inspections to include undeclared facilities, ElBaradei said. The authority is contained in a protocol which, he said, more than 150 countries have not yet signed. “The broader authority,” he said, “is still far from universal.”

This drive for more intrusive inspections has played a part in the current debate over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran, which has announced its intention to sign the Additional Protocol, has received “considerable attention” this year, said ElBaradei. “Recently we have received what the Iranian authorities have said is a full and accurate declaration of its past and current nuclear activities and are in the process of verifying this declaration, which is key to our ability to provide comprehensive assurances,” he said.

The United States says Iran is working on nuclear weapons and the IAEA hopes the data will lead to some conclusions. It is scheduled to address the assembly today. ElBaradei will report to his agency’s Board of Governors later this month on his findings. Ambassador Javad Zarif of Iran told the assembly the documents will show “that all Iranian nuclear activities are in the peaceful domain.”

“Arbitrary and often politically motivated limitations and restrictions will only impede the ability of the IAEA to conduct its verification responsibilities,” Zarif added. Such restrictions will not lead a country to renounce nuclear power, he said, but rather, “In all likelihood, it will lead, as it has, to acquisition of the same peaceful technology from unofficial channels in a less than transparent fashion, thus exacerbating mutual suspicions.”

Zarif said NPT membership should not be an impediment to peaceful uses of nuclear technology “while non-membership is rewarded by acquiescence, as is the case in the development of one of the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the Middle East” — a reference to Israel.

ElBaradei said he is continuing to consult with Middle East governments “on the application of full-scope safeguards to all nuclear activities in the Middle East, and on the development of model agreements.” However, he regretted that “the prevailing situation” has prevented progress. He said any comprehensive settlement in the region “includes the establishment of the Middle East as a zone free from weapons of mass destruction.”

ElBaradei also said it would be “prudent” for the United Nations and the IAEA to return to Iraq to “bring the weapons file to a closure.” He repeated the agency’s conclusion from earlier this year that “we found no evidence of the revival of nuclear activities prohibited” by the Security Council.

The IAEA has two mandates concerning Iraq — the inspections imposed by the council and those mandated by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The agency has not been in Iraq under either mandate since the U.S. invasion in March. The council mandate “still stands,” ElBaradei said.

The assembly is debating a draft resolution accepting the IAEA’s report. The draft acknowledges the agency’s annual report and “takes note” of various resolutions of the IAEA Board of Governors, including on the application of safeguards, progress on the Additional Protocol and of the dealings with North Korea. No date has been set for voting on the draft. In previous years, North Korea has introduced amendments altering the references to its nuclear programs. Such proposals have been defeated.

ElBaradei said that since the agency has not been in North Korea since December 2002 it “cannot provide any level of assurance about the non-diversion of nuclear material” since Pyongyang demanded IAEA inspectors leave the country last year. He also called for “comprehensive settlement of the Korean crisis through dialogue.” The Board of Governors referred the issue to the Security Council in February, but the council has not yet taken any action.

Ambassador Kim Sam-hoon of South Korea said the North’s program “cannot be tolerated under any circumstance and … there is no substitute for North Korea’s complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program.” Seoul “is committed to a diplomatic and peaceful resolution,” he added. North Korea is scheduled to speak today.

Despite increased attention to the threat of nuclear material being diverted to terrorists, “deficiencies remain” in the security of nuclear and radiological materials, said ElBaradei. “Information in the agency database of illicit trafficking, combined with reports of discoveries of plans for radiological dispersal devices [the so-called ‘dirty bombs’], make it clear that a market continues to exist for obtaining and using radioactive sources for malevolent purposes.”

Another sign of increased awareness of the potential diversion of nuclear material is the fact that the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material has gained 20 new parties in two years, he said. “States are now working on a much-needed amendment to broaden the scope of the convention, that I hope will be adopted soon,” ElBaradei said.

Full Speech: