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"35 or 40" countries able to make nuclear weapons: IAEA chief

Up to 40 countries are believed to be capable of manufacturing
nuclear weapons, underlining the need to reinforce and update the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, International Atomic Energy
Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei told a French newspaper.

The treaty, which came into force in 1970, has been overtaken by a
world in which developing nuclear arms has become attractive not
only to many countries, but also to "terrorist groups," ElBaradei
told Friday's issue of Le Monde.

The number of countries believed to be able to create such weapons
"is estimated at 35 or 40," he said.

"And under the current regime, there is nothing illicit for a
non-nuclear state to conduct uranium-enriching activities ... or
even to possess military-grade nuclear material," he said.

Should any one of them decide to break their commitment to the
non-proliferation treaty, experts believe it "could produce a
weapon in just a few months."

He added: "We are already on the verge of catastrophe with North

Elsewhere in the interview, ElBaradei said his agency was at work
verifying Iran's nuclear programme, and said a report would be
made at the next UN Security Council meeting.

To cope with the increasing risk of other countries developing
nuclear arms, the agency head said a beefed-up version of the
non-proliferation treaty was needed, beyond the tweaking that it
went through in 1995 after the first Gulf War.

"We have to reach agreement on limiting the construction, in
civilian programmes, of nuclear material for military ends by
confining this to installations under multilateral control."

A "new safety system" that would treat the causes of international
insecurity, not just their symptoms, also should be created that
would not be based on "dissuasion, but on fairness and
universality," he argued.

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