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Non-nuclear Mid-East

Last updated: 2004-07-06

Mohammed ElBaradei

Mohammed ElBaradei

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is in Israel for talks expected to focus on ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons.

Israel neither acknowledges nor denies having a nuclear arsenal, and has maintained a policy of nuclear ambiguity for decades. However, international experts say they suspect the Jewish state has as many as 200 nuclear warheads.

Ahead of his two-day trip, IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei said Israel should start talks on ridding the region of nuclear weapons whether it acknowledges having them or not.

In a statement released Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel would not change its policy of nuclear ambiguity and would maintain in its hands all the force components needed for its defense.

Meantime, an Israeli court has upheld a government decision to refuse entry to a British journalist who reported on Israel's covert nuclear program in 1986.

Journalist Peter Hounam was trying to enter Israel to help Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu appeal restrictions placed on him after his release from prison in April.

Vanunu spent 18 years in jail for revealing details of an Israeli nuclear plant to Mr. Hounam, who in 1986 wrote for Britain's Sunday Times.

Analysts used the Times' report to estimate Israel had as many as 200 nuclear warheads, a contention that Israel neither confirms nor denies.

In May, the Israeli Interior Ministry said Mr. Hounam could still act to reveal sensitive information if allowed to enter the country.

Story supplied by: VOAnews