Hopes dimmed today for a major Middle East nuclear conference as Iran and Arab countries clashed with the US at preliminary talks.
The countries warned that Israel was the greatest threat to peace in the region and Egypt warned that Arab states might rethink their opposition to atomic arms.
Israel has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and was therefore not present at yesterday's gathering of 189 treaty members.
But the US leaped to the defence of the nuclear-armed country, warning that singling out Israel for criticism diminished chances of any meeting between it and its neighbours to explore the prospect of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
The conference planned for later this year had been a key plank of a month-long high-level gathering of treaty signatories in 2010 to review the objectives of the 42-year-old treaty.
Arab nations have warned that failure to stage the meeting would call into question the overall achievements of the 2010 conference.
Egypt, speaking for non-aligned NPT signatory nations, said that Israel’s nuclear capabilities constituted “a threat to international peace and security.”
Senior Foreign Ministry official Ahmed Fathalla warned that Arab nations might “revise their policies” regarding their opposition to having nuclear weapons if the planned conference failed to materialise.
Israel is likely to ignore any potentially hostile meeting and its absence would strip the gathering of significance, leaving it as little more than a forum for Arab states to criticise Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal.
And Israel’s Western allies continued to divert attention to Iran, accusing it of violating the NPT by non-compliance with UN security council resolutions demanding it curb uranium enrichment.
US State Department envoy Thomas Countryman seized on the diversion, claiming “deep concern over Iran’s persistent failure to comply with its non-proliferation obligations.”
He also criticised Syria — claimed by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be “very likely” to be hiding a covert nuclear programme — and urged it and Tehran to “return to full compliance” with their treaty obligations.
But Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadeh condemned the “hypocritical double standards” of the US and EU for keeping “deadly silent on the Israel nuclear programme.”
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