UN atomic watchdog chief presses Israeli ministers on nuclear issues ahead of key meetings

JERUSALEM (AP) — The U.N.'s atomic watchdog chief held talks with Israeli officials Tuesday in what was expected to be an effort to push the country to open its secretive nuclear program to international scrutiny.

Yukiya Amano's low-profile visit to Israel comes ahead of the International Atomic Energy Agency's September board meeting and general conference. Israel will likely be a central topic at the meeting, at which Arab countries are expected to continue a recent push for more scrutiny of Israel's nuclear capabilities.

Israel refuses to confirm it possesses a nuclear arsenal, following a long-standing policy it terms "nuclear ambiguity." But it is widely considered to be the Mideast's only nuclear power.

During the two-day visit, Amano was set to hold talks with Cabinet ministers in charge of atomic energy and strategic affairs, as well as with President Shimon Peres, Israeli officials said.

He was not slated to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The officials said talks were expected to focus on the desire by the U.N.'s Vienna-based watchdog, the IAEA, to see Israel join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Amano's schedule was not officially announced.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press learned that Amano had sent a letter soliciting proposals from the agency's 151 member states on how to persuade Israel to sign the nonproliferation treaty.

The latest pressure has put the Jewish state in an uncomfortable position. It wants the international community to take stern action to prevent Iran from getting atomic weapons but at the same time brushes off calls to come clean about its own nuclear capabilities.

In Vienna, IAEA spokesman Ayhan Evrensel said Tuesday only that Amano would "exchange views on issues of mutual interest" while in Israel.

Amano replaced the IAEA's former chief, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, in December.