Egypt proposes N-free zone in Middle East
* Condemns Israel for standing in the way
* Israel dismisses Arab complaint about atom arsenal
VIENNA: Egypt on Wednesday proposed the creation of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East and blasted Israel for standing in the way, at a meeting in Vienna of the UN atomic watchdog.
“Egypt will be tabling a draft resolution on this item, a nuclear-free zone” and hopes for “a serious international commitment in this area,” Egyptian ambassador Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy told the 139-nation general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Ramzy appealed to IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei “to continue his efforts to persuade the country which is standing in the way of the creation of such an area to display good will”, in a clear reference to Israel.
The annual IAEA general conference has in past years adopted Egyptian-inspired resolutions calling on states to work towards a Middle East nuclear-free zone but the texts never mention Israel by name.
Israel has in the past joined in consensus on the resolution, as it promised Wednesday to do again, in return for another resolution that seeks to have “Israeli Nuclear Capabilities and Threat” discussed at the conference being dropped.
Diplomats said the IAEA conference gives Arab states a chance to vent anger at Israel, which is the only Middle Eastern state believed to have nuclear weapons, while preserving consensus at the UN atomic monitoring agency.
Arab states also resent the fact that the IAEA is cracking down on Iran for what the United States charges is a covert nuclear weapons programme while US ally Israel avoids such scrutiny.
“To build confidence . . . you must have one element - renounce possession of nuclear weapons, create an area free of weapons of mass destruction” and agree to “full verification on the part of the IAEA,” Ramzy said.
The Egyptian draft resolution “calls upon all states in the region to take measures aimed at establishing a NWFZ in the Middle East” but does not specify any obligations.
Israel dismisses Arab complaint: Israel on Wednesday dismissed as “cynically motivated” a push by Arab countries to have the United Nations nuclear watchdog’s 139 member states condemn the Jewish state for having nuclear weapons.
Israel neither confirms nor denies having a nuclear arsenal but experts estimate it has between 100 and 200 atomic bombs.
In a letter submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on behalf of Arab member states, Oman asked that member states consider a statement strongly criticising Israel at the agency’s General Conference this week.
Israel pushed for countries to reject the letter, which is on the meeting’s agenda.
“There is no basis for this agenda item, whose sponsors are motivated by extraneous considerations which are also evident in their efforts to challenge Israel’s credentials,” the head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, Gideon Frank, said in a statement to the General Conference.
“Both actions are politically and cynically motivated and have little to do with the IAEA’s objective or mandate. They inevitably cast a serious doubt on the sincerity of its sponsors,” he added.
The statement adjoined to the Arab letter said: “Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is likely to lead to a destructive nuclear arms race in the region, especially if Israel’s nuclear installations remain outside any international control.”
Arab countries submit similar statements to the IAEA’s general conference every year, but have failed to win backing since 1991.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East believed to possess nuclear weapons and has not signed the global pact aimed at halting the spread of atomic arms, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The Arab letter was submitted on behalf of 15 countries - including Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Algeria, Lebanon, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Sudan - and the Palestinian Authority. Iraq was not included.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has called for Israel to scrap its atomic arsenal.
If countries backed the Arab proposal, listed as agenda item 22, Israel said it would not support the preceding item, an Egyptian draft resolution calling for states in the Middle East to take steps towards creating a zone free of nuclear weapons.
“Israel, as in previous years, will not be in a position to support agenda item 21 on the application of IAEA safeguards in the Middle East if any action is taken on agenda item 22,” Frank said.
The latest Arab drive to condemn Israel follows a resolution passed by the IAEA’s 35-nation governing board requiring that Iran, a sworn enemy of the Jewish state, be reported to the UN Security Council over fears it wants to build nuclear weapons. reuters