Middle East nuclear talks thrown into doubt (REUTERS) By Fredrik Dahl VIENNA, AUSTRIA 05/08/12 2:17pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Talks on ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons
looked in doubt on Tuesday as the Western official organizing them
said he had yet to secure the needed attendance of all countries in
The statement by Finnish diplomat Jaakko Laajava at a meeting in
Vienna was a sign of the difficulties involved in getting Israel, its
arch foe Iran and other Middle East nations to sit around a table
this year to discuss the divisive issue.
Laajava, whose appointment was announced by the United Nations last
October, did not say which countries were still leaving their
attendance unclear, but both Iran and Israel are believed to be among
Underlining the deep divisions on the issue of weapons of mass
destruction, Iran and Arab states used the Vienna meeting on the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to repeat their criticism of
Israel over its assumed atomic arsenal.
Egypt, which originally proposed talks on creating a nuclear arms-
free Middle East, said such a conference would represent a crossroads
for Arab states and warned that "its failure would invite them to
revise" their nuclear policies.
It did not elaborate, but the wording may be interpreted as a veiled
warning regarding Arab states´ commitment to the NPT, a pact designed
to prevent the spread of atomic arms.
Israel is not a member of the voluntary 1970 pact so was not
represented in Vienna but the United States warned that "continued
efforts to single out Israel ... will make a (Middle East) conference
increasingly less likely".
Egypt´s plan for an international meeting in 2012 to lay the
groundwork for the possible creation of a Middle East free of weapons
of mass destruction was agreed at an NPT review conference two years
In his first public briefing on the issue since he took up the job,
Laajava told delegates in Vienna he had held a series of meetings
with regional states and they shared the goal of establishing such a
zone, but they differed on how to do so.
"Unfortunately, while much has de facto been already achieved in
these consultations in terms of identifying common ground, I cannot
yet report that the conference will be attended by all states of the
region," he said.
Laajava said Finland was prepared to host the meeting any time during
2012, suggesting December was a possibility.
Iran and Arab states see Israel´s assumed atomic arsenal as a major
threat to peace and stability in the Middle East.
Israel - widely believed to be the only regional state with such arms
and the only one outside the NPT - and the United States regard Iran
as the region´s main proliferation threat, accusing Tehran of seeking
to develop such weapons.
The Jewish state has said it would sign the NPT and renounce nuclear
weapons only as part of a broader Middle East peace deal with Arab
states and Iran that guaranteed its security.
Israel does not rule out taking part in the planned conference,
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said last week, but added it
was "awaiting clarification on some issues".
Thomas Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary for international
security and non-proliferation, told the meeting in Vienna that a
Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was an achievable,
but long-term, goal.
However "a comprehensive and durable peace and full compliance by all
countries in the region with their non-proliferation obligations" was
needed for this to happen, he said.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a director of the International Institute for
Strategic Studies think-tank, said the rationale for creating a zone
in the Middle East free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass
destruction was stronger than ever.
It could "be an answer to the Iranian nuclear crisis that threatens
to spark regional proliferation and engulf the Middle East in another
war" and "remove the sense of double standards over Israel´s nuclear
program", Fitzpatrick said in a report.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Alison
Williams and Pravin Char) (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 05/08/12)
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