Gideon Frank, director-general of the Atomic Energy Commission in the Prime Minister's Office, told the International Atomic Energy Agency's 46th General Conference in Vienna yesterday that Israel opposes Iraq's proposal to the conference agenda that it discuss "Israeli Nuclear Capabilities and Threat."

Frank said that "many dangerous proliferation developments in our region and in other regions have occurred in recent years, none of which involve Israel. On the contrary: Israel has neither threatened any of its neighbors nor has it acted in defiance of international commitments." He added that the Iraqi proposal for the agenda lacks "factual justification" and that "there is no need to single out Israel."

Adopting the Iraqi proposal for the agenda debate, said Frank, "is bound to make it impossible for us to join any consensus resolution concerning the 'Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East.' Once broken, the tradition of consensus resolution on the Middle East will be very difficult to revive."

As in previous years, Frank's speech focused on Israeli readiness to turn the Middle East into a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) "eventually, as an important complement to the overall peace in the region." Israel is demanding that discussions on turning the Middle East into a NWFZ take place in direct contacts between the states of the region. Other Middle East countries, however, led by Egypt, are opposed to Israel's condition for first peace and then denuclearization of the region.

In a document presented by Israel in advance of the conference to IAEA director-general, Dr. Mohammed El Baradei of Egypt, Israel proposes that regional discussions about nuclear issues in the Middle East begin with learning from the Tlatelolco Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America, and how Latin American countries agreed on verification and tangible security for nuclear facilities and material.

El Baradei opened the conference with the announcement that Cuba will be signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. When it does, only Israel, India, and Pakistan will remain outside the NPT. Arab states want an Israeli ratification of the NPT as a condition for moving toward confidence-building measures for regional security in the Middle East. The working groups for these issues, which began operating in the multinational tracks established by the Madrid Conference in 1991, have not met since 1994.

In his report to the board of governors of the IAEA, El Baradei said that as in the past, "due to the circumstances in the region," his efforts had failed to bring nuclear facilities in the region under inspection in preparation for making the region a NWFZ.

Last year, Frank said in his speech, a new threat emerged: "Terrorists targeting civilians populations with non-discriminating (including non-conventional) means. Israel can attest from its own experience how devastating even conventional indiscriminate attacks can be. Moreover, there is an alarming correlation between states currently seeking weapons of mass destruction capabilities and states which are still sponsoring terrorism. This state of affairs creates an urgent need to prevent deadly capabilities from falling into the wrong hands by taking effective measures to block the spread of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups as well as to states supporting them."

He said "a new balance" is needed between concerns about nuclear proliferation and "further development and improvement in the area of nuclear power production," saying nuclear energy would "foster a future of sustainable energy, that will decrease the dependence on fossil fuel sources."

That position contradicts the U.S. claims against the Iranian investments in their nuclear facility in Bushar. Only a week ago, a senior Pentagon official, briefing reporters, said Iran burns more waste gas annually than the entire energy production capabilities of the planned plant at Bushar. The official said that was evidence of Iran's military ambitions for nuclear capability, and added that Syria's nuclear relationship with Russia, which is helping build the Bushar plant, worries the Pentagon.

Iranian Vice President Reza Aghazedah, who heads Iran's Atomic Energy Commission, told the conference that Iran first called for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East in 1974, when the Shah was still in power. "Israel, however, the only non-adherent party [to the NPT], has so far not been cooperative in this regard." Israel's signature on the NPT is "an essential preliminary step" toward the establishment of a Middle East NWFZ, he said. "On the basis of its Islamic tenets, beliefs, and human affinity, [Iran] has always condemned the possession of weapons of mass destruction," said Aghazedah.