By Francesca Astorri
Gulf state calls for the establishment of nuclear weapons-free zones in the region
Qatar’s representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has called for the establishment of nuclear weapons-free zones in the Middle East and the speeding up of nuclear disarmament in order to address the nuclear terrorism challenges faced by the region, the Qatar News Agency reported.
The Gulf state’s Permanent Representative to IAEA, Ali Khalfan Al Mansouri, told the International Ministerial Conference of Nuclear Security in Vienna more needed to be done to “strengthen the legal framework to prevent nuclear terrorism and raise public awareness of the importance of nuclear energy and nuclear security measures.”
Al Mansouri also highlighted the challenges posed by the expansion of energy reactors and called for the strengthening of nuclear security measures at all levels.
The Gulf is still moving toward nuclear power with the UAE expecting to have its first reactor by 2017. In 2012 the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) was granted approval to undertake groundwork preparation at the site of the Arab world's first two nuclear power reactors.
As energy demand in the GCC countries increases around eight percent a year, in 2010 Saudi Arabia King Abdullah issued a royal order establishing the King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy, an organisation that will oversee all aspects of a nuclear power industry in the country.
Al Mansouri’s comments echo those by the UAE Ambassador to China Omar Al Bitar, who earlier this week said efforts to reduce the development of nuclear weapons was “insufficient” and more needed to be done prevent the triggering of a nuclear arms race in the region.
"The UAE believes in the right of states to acquire nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but they should commit themselves to international regulations, transparency and standards," Al Bitar said as he chaired a panel discussion on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security at the 2nd World Peace Forum in China.
According to a report by the WAM news agency, Al Bitar said he regretted that although peaceful nuclear energy had contributed to development in many countries of the world, some countries have developed nuclear weapons that posed a threat to international security, peace and stability.
The diplomat described as "insufficient" the current international efforts on nuclear arms reduction. Acquisition of nuclear arms by any state in the Middle East, he warned, could trigger an unprecedented nuclear arms race and it will enhance Israel's possession of nuclear weapons rather than advancing efforts to make the region free of nuclear weapons.
Last month, the US said it was "deeply troubled" over Iran's plans to launch a new heavy water reactor in 2014 while failing to provide the UN nuclear watchdog with necessary design information about the plant.
Western diplomats and experts say the Arak reactor could yield plutonium for nuclear bombs if its spent fuel were reprocessed, something which Iran says it has no intention of doing. The Islamic Republic says the plant will produce medical and agricultural isotopes.
The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran must urgently provide it with design data about the facility, warning that it would otherwise adversely affect its inspectors' ability to monitor the site effectively.
"We are deeply troubled that Iran claims that the IR-40 heavy water reactor at Arak could be commissioned as soon as early 2014, but still refuses to provide the requisite design information for the reactor," US Ambassador Joseph Macmanus told a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors.
He cited IAEA rules that a member state must inform the Vienna-based UN agency about a nuclear facility, and give design details, as soon as it has decided to build it.
"Iran's refusal to fulfil this basic obligation must necessarily cause one to ask whether Iran is again pursuing covert nuclear activities," Macmanus said.