VIENNA (Reuters) – The United Nations” nuclear watchdog on Friday approved a U.S. proposal aimed at boosting and enforcing global atomic security rules following North Korean and Iranian nuclear crises.
The International Atomic Energy Agency”s (IAEA) board of governors unanimously approved the plan to set up a committee to examine how the nuclear safeguards regime can be improved.
"The board of governors decides to set up a committee on safeguards and verification to consider ways and means to strengthen the safeguards system," said a document on the board”s decision, obtained by Reuters.
The United States issued a statement saying the committee would "strengthen the agency”s ability to monitor and enforce compliance with nuclear non-proliferation obligations."
Washington accuses Iran of following North Korea”s example of developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program. Tehran vehemently denies this, insisting its nuclear ambitions are limited to generating electricity.
The head of the U.S. delegation, Ambassador Jackie Sanders, said the committee should help the agency increase its ability to detect new kinds of safeguards breaches.
"The proliferation challenges of today, including non-compliance by North Korea and Iran and the revelation of (illicit) nuclear procurement networks calls for more evolution," Sanders told reporters outside the IAEA boardroom.
"This new committee should play a key role in helping us meet those challenges," she said.
Iran hid its nuclear enrichment program from the IAEA for nearly two decades before officially declaring it in October 2003. North Korea expelled U.N. inspectors on Dec. 31, 2002 before withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the first country to leave the global anti-arms pact.
Diplomats on the board said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei had originally opposed the plan, but significant revisions were made to overcome IAEA objections.
ElBaradei said this week he believed such a committee "would usefully explore how the safeguards system could be further strengthened."
Among the compromises Washington accepted to the plan, first proposed by President Bush last year, was to set it up for an initial 2-year period as opposed to leaving it open-ended, diplomats on the IAEA board told Reuters.
Also, instead of barring suspected violators of the NPT from the committee, as Bush had proposed, any country on the IAEA”s 35-nation board would be allowed on it, the IAEA document said.