By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Discriminatory implementation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has left many countries feeling that being a party to the anti-atom bomb pact hinders cooperation in the field atomic energy, Iran's U.N. ambassador said on Monday.
Western diplomats and analysts have long expressed concern that Iran might one day follow North Korea's example and pull out of the NPT and produce a bomb. North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003 and tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.
Speaking at a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on the annual report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee sought to assure countries that despite Tehran's reservations about the way the treaty is enforced, Iran does not plan to pull out.
"Iran ... is fully committed to its legal obligations, and its nuclear activities are, and have always been, exclusively for peaceful purposes," Khazaee said. He added that Tehran considers development of the full nuclear fuel cycle an "inalienable right" under the NPT.
Western powers and their allies fear Iran is amassing the capability to produce atomic weapons, an allegation Tehran rejects. The Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt nuclear-fuel work, but Tehran has pressed ahead with uranium enrichment.
Khazaee accused the United States, Britain and France of supplying Israel - which is not a party to the 1970 treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear arms and is widely assumed to be the Middle East's sole nuclear power - with atomic "assistance and cooperation."
"The application of a discriminatory, selective, highly restrictive and politically motivated approach in nuclear cooperation ... has given rise to this impression that being an NPT party is not a privilege, because rather than facilitating, it impedes nuclear cooperation," he said.
Israel neither confirms nor denies having nuclear arms.
In a written message to the 193-nation assembly, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano reiterated his oft-stated concerns about the agency's decade-long probe of Iran's nuclear program.
"Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation to enable us to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities," his statement said. "Therefore, we cannot conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."
Some analysts agree the non-proliferation regime is discriminatory, since the five permanent U.N. Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - are all permitted to maintain nuclear arsenals, although they have pledged under the NPT to negotiate on eradicating such arms.
Russia and the United States, which possess the bulk of the world's nuclear weapons, have reduced the size of their atomic arsenals, although both still possess thousands of warheads. None of the other perm-five members has yet given up their capability.
The NPT bars non-nuclear weapons states from developing or acquiring them.
The IAEA statement expressed similar frustrations about the agency's investigations into North Korea and Syria. It said Pyongyang's statements about uranium enrichment and construction of a light-water reactor were "deeply troubling."
In a typically fiery speech, North Korea's deputy U.N. envoy Ri Tong Il told the assembly the IAEA was irrelevant to the situation in Asia because the agency was a puppet of Washington.
"The situation on the Korean peninsula is on the brink of explosion and nobody knows when the war will break out," he said, adding that the United States and South Korea were to blame. He said six-party aid-for-disarmament talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea were nearly "dead."
North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors at the end of 2002 when it restarted its mothballed Yongbyon nuclear facilities.
Pakistan, which like its neighbor India has nuclear arms but is not a member of the NPT, also complained to the General Assembly about the discriminatory way in which atomic technology is made available to some states, but not others.
"Pakistan believes in an equitable, non-discriminatory and criteria-based approach to advance the universally shared goals of non-proliferation and promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy," Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan said.
Pakistan, which was embarrassed after it was revealed in 2003 that Pakistani technology had been sold to both Iran and North Korea, has long been irritated by a bilateral U.S.-India deal on the transfer of civilian nuclear technology to India.
That agreement went against a long tradition according to which countries producing nuclear technology pledged not to supply atomic equipment to states outside the NPT, or to treaty signatories in violation of it.
Frustrated by its status as a nuclear pariah, Pakistan has been turning to China for nuclear cooperation.
The IAEA statement also said that the agency continued to have questions about a site in Syria's desert Deir al-Zor region that U.S. intelligence reports say was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor designed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons before Israel bombed it in 2007.
Amano's statement reiterated his request for information about Deir al-Zor, which Syria says was a conventional military site, and other locations in Syria.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by David Brunnstrom)