The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Tuesday that unless the United States and other nuclear powers take concrete steps toward disarmament, scores of countries will follow their lead and build atomic weapons.
The United States, China, Britain, France and Russia all signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). They were allowed to keep their atomic arsenals, but agreed to begin negotiations on full disarmament.
"Unless we are moving steadily toward nuclear disarmament, I'm afraid that the alternative is that we'll have scores of countries with nuclear weapons and that's an absolute recipe for self-destruction,'' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters.
The IAEA is charged with verifying members countries' compliance with the NPT through regular inspections of its nearly 190 signatories' nuclear facilities to ensure they are not diverting resources to secret weapons programs.
ElBaradei has attacked U.S. plans to research so-called "mini nukes,'' smaller nuclear bombs which Washington says it wants to study but not deploy. ElBaradei says these plans are sending the wrong signal to states considering atomic bombs.
"I think eventually the weapons states have to make good on their commitment under the NPT, which was made 30 years ago, saying that we are going to move to nuclear disarmament,'' he said.
"That was an acknowledgment that nuclear weapons are inherently bad and that we should get rid of them,'' ElBaradei said. "The sooner we do that the better.''
India and Pakistan have not signed the NPT but have nuclear weapons. Israel has never acknowledged it has a nuclear arsenal, though it is estimated to have up to 200 atomic weapons.