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06-14-2005, 09:58 PM
Saudis Reject Call for Inspections


By GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 8 minutes ago

VIENNA, Austria - Saudi Arabia is defying the United States, the European Union and Australia by resisting U.N. efforts to verify that it has no nuclear assets worth inspecting, according to a confidential EU document obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

There is little concern the Saudis are trying to make nuclear arms (Gold9472: I'm more worried about them developing nuclear weapons then I am Iran), but Riyadh's resistance to inspections adds another worry for a top-level meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency this week that is focusing on North Korea and Iran.

Those two countries are the world's major concerns about the spread of atomic weapons. On Tuesday, the IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, urged North Korea to back away from its nuclear program and asked Iran to cooperate better with the U.N. investigation of its nuclear activities.

The Saudis insist they have no plans to develop nuclear arms — and no facilities or nuclear stocks that warrant inspection. But they have been under pressure to allow a U.N. inspection before a deal comes into force that would effectively curtail the IAEA's monitoring there.

Called the small quantities protocol, the deal has been implemented in more than 70 nations, most of them small and in politically stable parts of the world. It allows countries whose nuclear equipment or activities are below a minimum threshold to submit a declaration instead of undergoing inspection.

But the Saudi push to formalize minimal monitoring comes amid growing tensions in the Middle East, fed by the suspicions of the United States and others that Iran might be trying to develop atomic weapons. The Iranian government denies that.

The deal also coincides with an agency push to tighten or rescind the protocol, as suggested in a confidential IAEA document prepared for the board and also made available to AP on Tuesday.

While the Saudi government insists it has no interest in having nuclear arms, in the past two decades it has been linked to prewar Iraq's nuclear program and to the Pakistani nuclear black marketeer A.Q. Khan. It also has expressed interest in Pakistani missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and Saudi officials reportedly discussed pursuing the nuclear option as a deterrent in the volatile Middle East.

Over the past few weeks, the United States, the European Union and Australia urged the Saudis in separate diplomatic notes to either back away from the small quantities protocol or agree to inspections.

But the EU briefing memo — made available to AP by a diplomat accredited to the agency who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to release it — reported Saudi unwillingness to bow to the Western pressure.

It quoted the Saudi deputy foreign affairs minister, Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Kabira, as telling EU officials in Riyadh that his country would be "willing to provide additional information" to the IAEA "only if all other parties" to the protocol did the same.

Discussing North Korea at the IAEA meeting, ElBaradei told delegates the agency is ready to work with the isolated communist regime in Pyongyang "to ensure that all nuclear activities ... are exclusively for peaceful purposes."

The agency has had no authority there since North Korea ordered U.N. inspectors to leave in late 2002 and withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Since then, the North has increased threats to build — and possibly use — nuclear weapons in response to what it calls threats from the United States. It claims to already possess some atomic weapons.

Iran, in contrast, has been in the agency's sights since 2003, following revelations of nearly two decades of nuclear activities kept secret from U.N. inspectors. The work included uranium enrichment, which can be used to make the core of nuclear warheads.

Iran insists it wants enriched uranium only to fuel electricity-generating nuclear power, but it agreed to freeze that program and related activities late last year and participate in talks with France, Britain and Germany aimed at enticing Tehran to give up enrichment.

ElBaradei said that while Iran has provided some information to help U.N. investigators, its cooperation has not been sufficient, particularly about details of its enrichment program.

He urged Iran to allow inspectors to visit Parchin, a military site where the United States says the Iranians may be testing high-explosive components for nuclear bombs. A previous visit by inspectors was severely restricted by the Iranians.

ElBaradei said inspectors also should be permitted to visit the Lavizan-Shian site near Tehran, where the agency believes Iran has stored dual-use equipment that can be used both for peaceful and nuclear weapons-related purposes.