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UN Nuclear Inspections Chief to Visit Israel - 2004-04-28

The International Atomic Energy Agency says its director will visit Israel in the coming months to discuss, among other things, creating a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, has accepted an invitation from Israel to visit the country, probably in July.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says the agency is preparing the visit.

?I can confirm that Dr. ElBaradei is planning to visit Israel sometime this summer, though the exact date has not yet been finalized, nor have the details of the program for the visit,? she said. ?Israel is a member state of the IAEA, and Mr. ElBaradei did once during his capacity as director general visit Israel six years ago. He does visit member states from time to time, and this one, he would use to consult on his mandate that member states gave him to promote broadly non-proliferation, and also a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East."

Ms. Fleming says bi-lateral issues in nuclear science will also be on the agenda.

Mr. ElBaradei met with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom last November, and again called for Israel to open its atomic sites to international inspectors.

The IAEA chief has often argued that lasting peace in the Middle East can only come, if the region is free of nuclear weapons. Mr. ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency were responsible for the weapons inspections in Iraq, which preceded the invasion by the U.S.-led coalition a year ago.

Israel has never confirmed or denied having a nuclear weapons program, but it is widely believed to have one. Non-proliferation analysts estimate Israel has an arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons.

At IAEA meetings, the Arab League has regularly called for Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and open its nuclear sites to inspections. Arab countries complain of a double standard by western nations for tolerating Israel's alleged weapons program, while cracking down on Arab countries like Iraq and Libya.