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Egypt, Russia to Work Harder on Starting WMD-Free Zone Confab

Chemical gas masks await dispersal at an Israeli factory in late August. Russia hopes that Syria's promise to give up its chemical arsenal will create momentum for holding a conference on banning weapons-of-mass-destruction in the Middle East (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov). Chemical gas masks await dispersal at an Israeli factory in late August. Russia hopes that Syria's promise to give up its chemical arsenal will create momentum for holding a conference on banning weapons-of-mass-destruction in the Middle East (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov).

Following Syria's promise to give up its chemical weapons, Egypt and Russia on Monday pledged to work harder to garner Middle Eastern support for a conference on establishing a region-wide ban against unconventional weapons, ITAR-Tass reported.

"We agreed [to] practical steps to invigorate the preparation of this important event, especially against the background of the Syrian leadership's decision to join the Chemical Weapons Convention," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Nabil Fahmy.

Syria's willingness to go along with WMD-free zone talks is expected to have repercussions on other regional states thought to possess unconventional weapons. Syria has a sizable chemical-weapons arsenal and a suspected biological weapons program.

International efforts in late 2012 to convene a U.N.-backed conference on negotiating a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone for the whole Middle East fell apart after Israel would not confirm its participation in the event. As Israel is widely seen as holding the region's sole nuclear arsenal, the Jewish state's involvement in the conference is seen as essential for it to be a success.

Washington supports Israel's position that a regional prohibition on weapons of mass destruction is not realistic if there is no all-encompassing Arab-Israeli peace deal and if Iran maintains its enrichment of uranium and other nuclear-weapon-related activities.

International attention on Syria's chemical arsenal has meant that some of the spotlight is also on Israel's own suspected chemical-weapon capabilities. Israel has signed but not ratified the CWC accord, the Associated Press reported.

Onetime Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz in a Monday radio interview would not discuss questions about his nation's suspected chemical arsenal. "It's clear to everyone that [Israel] is a democratic, responsible regime," he said. "I very much hope and am certain that the international community will not make this a central question and we will maintain the status quo."

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said his government could not ratify the CWC pact in the present security circumstances.

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