The United Nations' atomic watchdog agency has approved an agreement with Saudi Arabia that exempts its nuclear facilities from international inspections.

Western nations had lobbied for Saudi Arabia not to be included in the so-called Small Quantities Protocol, which allows nations with small nuclear programs to avoid inspections.

Diplomats said that in a time of heightened fears about the spread of nuclear weapons, the ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct inspections should not be restrained.

However, because the kingdom said it has no plans to develop nuclear arms and no significant stockpiles of nuclear material, the IAEA said it qualified for the protocol.

Since 1971, some 75 nations throughout the world have signed the small quantities protocol.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.