A day after President Bush called for tighter international regulations to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency say they need new powers to enforce any new rules.
In an article published in The New York Times, the head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, echoed President Bush's call for tighter regulations. Mr. ElBaradei wrote that the world could be headed toward destruction, if it does not stop the spread of nuclear technology.
He wrote that such technology has become too easily available through an illegal international network of suppliers.
A senior IAEA official in Vienna says that countries that sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty should also be required to sign what is called an additional protocol, giving the agency greater rights to inspect potential nuclear facilities.
Iran recently signed such a protocol under international pressure, and IAEA inspectors reported that, during an inspection, they found plans for a centrifuge that could be used to enrich nuclear material.
Senior IAEA official Jacques Baute says it is becoming easier for countries to obtain nuclear weapons technology secretly. Mr. Baute says that was particularly clear during his recent inspection trip to Libya.
"That was a shock for all of us," he said. "The fact that all the approach of non-proliferation and the associated verification has been based on the fact that a country would have to put in place a certain infrastructure, to conduct research and development, to go in the direction of undeclared or prohibited goal. The discovery in Libya was that, if in today's world, you have a checkbook, and you are ready to pay several millions, you could be able to find all these key facilities and information on how to make and what a nuclear weapon could be."
Mr. Baute, an expert on weapons technology, says the IAEA urgently needs greater access to nuclear facilities around the world, and more resources, if it is to effectively fight this new kind of proliferation.
"Reinforcing the agency rights would definitely be [good], by for instance an additional protocol in force everywhere in the world, and maybe some reflection for better access," said Jacques Baute. "And the second line is on the issue of export control. The agency had little access to export-import information, except in specific cases."
Mr. Baute says, with the right powers and enough resources, the IAEA could make a contribution to closing what has become known as the nuclear supermarket.
"We have an asset, which is very specific for us, which is access to the end user, and that's why the key issue for us is the authority we have in countries, in other words access rights to find the final use of pieces of equipment that could - particularly if it is dual use equipment - that can be diverted to prohibited activities," he said.
Mr. Baute says the challenge is to find out which countries, besides Libya, have already bought weapons designs and nuclear components illegally.
In order to fight the illegal trade, the IAEA director, Mr. ElBaradei, wrote in his New York Times article that the production of fissile material for weapons should be halted, there should be tighter controls on uranium enrichment technology and that countries should close loopholes that allow dangerous goods to slip through export controls undetected.