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IAEA Chief Gathers Support to Shut Down Nuclear Black Market - 2004-03-24


Head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has stopped in Egypt on his way to the Middle East to gather support for his agency's attempt to shut down the black market in nuclear technology. Other high-profile western visits to the region are taking place this week.

According to the head of the IAEA, Mohammed ElBaradei, the purpose of Wednesday's trip to his native Egypt was, among other things, to discuss ways to clamp down on the black market for nuclear materials and technology.

Following his meeting with President Hosni Mubarak and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher, Mr. ElBaradei said he will also travel to Iran to press Tehran for complete openness about its nuclear program.

Responding to concerns among Arab countries about Israeli nuclear capabilities, he said his agency has no jurisdiction over Israel.

He said Israel and Arab leaders should address the nuclear issue as part of the Middle East peace process.

He says Arabs believe the region should be free of nuclear weapons before there is peace, while the Israelis believe it should occur afterwards. He called for a strategic dialogue within the overall peace process.

Turning to Libya, Mr. ElBaradei said the process of ridding the country of weapons of mass destruction is almost complete. He said he plans to make a trip to Tripoli following his talks in Tehran.

The Libyan capital was also visited this week by Middle East envoy William Burns, who said his talks with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was a big step towards rebuilding political and economic trust between Washington and Tripoli.

Mr. Burns' visit to Libya was the first by a high-ranking American diplomat in more than 30 years.

Another historic visit is to take place Thursday when British Prime Minister Tony Blair travels to Tripoli. He will be the first British head of state to visit Libya since Winston Churchill.

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