Egypt proposes nuclear-free zone in Mideast

VIENNA (AFP) — Egypt 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.
Israel, believed to be the only state in the region with nuclear weapons, said it was not against such a zone but that there must first be an overall peace agreement in the Middle East.

Israeli atomic energy commission chief Gideon Frank also said another Arab initiative to name Israel as a nuclear threat was unacceptable as it was “politically and cynically motivated.”

Egyptian Ambassador Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy told the 139-nation general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that “Egypt will be tabling a draft resolution on . . . a nuclear-free zone” and hopes for “a serious international commitment in this area.”

Ramzy appealed to IAEA chief Mohammed Al Baradei “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, while preserving consensus at the UN atomic monitoring agency.

Arab states 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.

Israel is believed to have some 200 nuclear weapons, although it neither confirms nor denies this.

Israel has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and so is not subject to IAEA verification inspections, even though it is a member of the UN agency.

“We have one state in the area that constitutes an exception in Israel which remains outside the NPT regime and any legal framework in the area of nuclear disarmament,” Ramzy said.

“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 atomic chief Frank said “alarming proliferation developments in Middle East” in recent years do not “involve Israel but all of them challenge our security.”

Frank said that the Arab resolution naming Israel as a nuclear threat and “efforts to challenge Israel’s credentials… inevitably cast a serious doubt on the sincerity of its sponsors and their willingness to make any real progress towards cooperative security in the Middle East.”

The Arab resolution for an agenda item on an Israeli nuclear threat is accompanied by a letter from 15 Arab states plus Palestine which says: “Israel alone possesses nuclear capabilities, which are undeclared and not subject to international control and which constitute a permanent threat to peace and security in the region.”

Frank said Israel supported “the principle of converting the Middle East into a zone free of all kinds of weapons of mass destruction as well as ballistic missiles.”

But he said Israel took issues with this resolution’s portrayal of a nuclear weapons free zone “as an end in itself rather than as a desirable outcome of a fundamental regional political transformation of relations.”

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