Iran, Israel in bitter clash at UN watchdog debate

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VIENNA, Sep 21 (Reuters) Iran demanded today that UN inspectors visit Israel to investigate its nuclear capability while Israel accused Tehran of lying in a bitter debate at an assembly of the UN atomic watchdog.

The debate was sought by Arab and Islamic states after they shelved a resolution to brand Israel an atomic ''threat'' in the face of a likely Western manoeuvre to block a floor vote.

Israel is widely assumed to have the West Asia only atomic arsenal, though it has never confirmed or denied this. It is also one of just three states to shun the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, along with India and Pakistan.

Iran is under UN Security Council sanctions for refusing to suspend a nuclear energy programme, feared by major powers to be a covert attempt to build atomic bombs.

During the debate, Arab countries and Iran railed at ''international double standards and silence'' over Israeli nuclear exclusivity in the West Asia.

They repeatedly lambasted what they said was Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's tacit admission of a nuclear arsenal in a German media interview last December. Israeli officials later denied Olmert made any such omission.

ACCUSATIONS OF LYING ''Some speakers continue to lie about the statement of the Israeli prime minister, who did not say what they say he did,'' said Israel Michaeli, Israeli Ambassador to the IAEA.

''Those who call for the elimination of Israel have no moral standing when they criticise Israeli policies aimed at defending Israel's very existence.'' The Islamic Republic has made repeated calls for the Jewish state's elimination.

Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said: ''This is strange, the Israeli prime minister acknowledged having nuclear weapons, now we hear this is a lie.

''The only way for the international community to know the truth is to authorise the IAEA to send inspectors to Israel and verify the truth,'' Soltanieh said, his voice rising.

''We are seriously concerned about possession of nuclear weapons and non-accession to NPT. Non-aligned countries representing billions of people want an end put to this matter.

''We want the IAEA to have access to Israeli nuclear facilities and report to the international community at large.'' There is no chance of such an IAEA move without an Israeli invitation, inconceivable under current political circumstances.

Michaeli told the assembly earlier in the week that while a nuclear weapons-free zone in the West Asia was a commendable ideal, ''we can have no illusions'' as long as some Arab neighbours continue not to recognise Israel and Iran openly calls for its destruction.

Arab nations say a chronic imbalance of power in the West Asia caused by Israeli breeds instability and spurs others to seek mass-destruction weaponry.

At the annual 149-nation IAEA gathering yesterday, Arab and other Islamic nations pushed through a milder resolution targeting Israel by calling on all West Asia nations to apply IAEA safeguards and renounce nuclear weapons.

The non-binding vote, which upset the IAEA's traditional consensus culture, was 53-2 with 47 abstentions by Western and developing states.

REUTERS AK PM0100

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