Wednesday, January 16, 2008

IAEA seeks to soothe Pakistan ire over ElBaradei comments

January 11, 2008

VIENNA (AFP) — The UN atomic watchdog has attempted to smooth over a spat with Pakistan over recent comments made by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on the issue of nuclear safety.

A spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency insisted Thursday that ElBaradei's comments were intended to "call attention to the need to bolster nuclear safety and security measures, not only in Pakistan, but also everywhere in the world where nuclear materials or facilities exist."

ElBaradei and the IAEA "follow closely all situations that could have a potential impact on nuclear safety and security anywhere," said the agency's spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

"This remains the core of the agency's mission."

ElBaradei had wanted to underline the need to boost nuclear safety worldwide amid "concern about the possible ramifications of political violence and extremism in the Middle East region and nuclear security in Pakistan," she said.

The statement came after Islamabad angrily dismissed what it percieved to be ElBaradei's criticism of Pakistan's atomic weapons safety.

Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq had told a weekly press briefing on Wednesday that ElBaradei should "be careful about his statements and ought to remain within his mandate".

"Pakistan is a responsible nuclear weapons state," Sadiq insisted.

"Our nuclear weapons are as secure as any other nuclear weapons state. We therefore believe statements expressing concern about their safety and security are unwarranted and irresponsible."

The day before, ElBaradei had been quoted in the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat as saying he feared "chaos... or an extremist regime could take root in that country, which has 30 to 40 warheads", and was "worried that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of an extremist group in Pakistan or in Afghanistan".

There has been worldwide concern over the security of Pakistan's atomic arsenal since President Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November, which was subsequently lifted.

Fears for the stability of the Islamic republic have grown since the December 27 assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Sadiq said ElBaradei ignored the fact that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was subject to multi-layered safeguards and controls.

"Our civilian nuclear programme is under IAEA safeguards and we have always fully complied with IAEA obligations," he said.

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