Egypt's UN paper may put Israel nuclear arsenal on spotlight

The new move comes after Obama said his administration wanted to see all countries sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including Israel.

Egypt's UN paper may put Israel nuclear arsenal on spotlight

Egypt submitted a paper to a U.N. meeting on atomic weapons as the United States, Britain and France consider backing Egypt's call for a zone in the Middle East free of nuclear arms, envoys said.

The new move comes after US President Barack Obama said his administration wanted to see all countries sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including Israel.

He said that "whether we are talking about Israel or any other country, we think that becoming part of the NPT is important."

That was a long-held US position that preceded the current administration, Obama added.

The 189 signatories to the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will meet at U.N. headquarters in New York for a May 3-28 conference on the pact.

NPT review conferences take place every five years. At the 1995 meeting, member states unanimously supported a resolution backing the idea of "a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction."

Most experts estimate that Israel has at least between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, largely based on information leaked to the Sunday Times newspaper in the 1980s by Mordechai Vanunu, a former worker at the country's Dimona nuclear reactor.

Israel, which has initiated several wars in the region in its 60-year history, has not denied having nuclear weapons, but has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and open its facilities for IAEA perusal.

But, Israel rejected Obama's call for it to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"Israel higher priority"

In a working paper Egypt submitted to fellow treaty members ahead of next month's meeting, Cairo said the conference should formally express regret that "no progress has taken place on the implementation of the (1995) resolution" and call for an international treaty conference by 2011.

The point of such a conference would be "to launch negotiations, with the participation of all states of the Middle East, on an internationally and effectively verifiable treaty for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East," the Egyptian paper says.

Egyptian initiatives at NPT meetings are nothing new.

But Western diplomats familiar with the issue said the five permanent U.N. Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- might be ready to support such a conference, although not with a negotiating mandate.

The diplomats, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the three Western powers might also encourage Israel to participate, although their position was that there could be no mandate for negotiating such a treaty now.

Diplomats said backing from the five permanent Security Council members -- the NPT's five official nuclear powers -- would help ensure broad support for Egypt's plan next month.

Egypt's U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz told Reuters the sticking point was Israel's reluctance to participate.

"We want the Israelis to sit at a table and negotiate," he said.

"We're flexible on the location and the format of the conference," Abdelaziz said, adding that one possible idea was to have U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon oversee it.

One Western diplomat said the Israelis were "understandably reluctant" to take part, even if the conference's outcome would be merely symbolic. But it would be difficult to refuse if Washington began to put pressure on the Israelis, he said.

Israel's U.N. mission had no official comment on the Egyptian proposal.

Several diplomats told Reuters that Egypt has made clear it sees Israel as a higher priority than Iran and has threatened to prevent the NPT conference from reaching any agreements next month if it does not get what it wants on Israel. Decisions at NPT meetings are made by consensus.

Iran says it enriches uranium for civilian applications and that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has a right to the technology already in the hands of many others.

Israel also often threatens Iran an attack over its nuclear sites.

Agencies

Last Mod: 20 Nisan 2010, 14:11
Add Comment