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Israel Says Won't Attend WMD-Free Middle East Meeting

Ehud Azoulay, Israeli envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, shown on Sept. 11. Israel announced this week it would not participate in a planned conference on establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone (AP Photo/Ronald Zak). Ehud Azoulay, Israeli envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, shown on Sept. 11. Israel announced this week it would not participate in a planned conference on establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone (AP Photo/Ronald Zak).

Israel on Wednesday said it would not take part in a planned meeting on outlawing nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, Haaretz reported.

State participants in the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference formally called for the gathering, which is tentatively due to take place later this year in Helsinki, Finland. The planned event might also take place shortly into next year, Agence France-Presse reported.

Tel Aviv -- the only Middle Eastern government assumed to have a nuclear deterrent -- reaffirmed concerns that the Persian Gulf region's political instability obviates any near-term potential for the local abolition of atomic armaments, according to Haaretz.

"In order to realize this idea there is need for prior conditions and a complete reversal of the current trend in the area," Israel Atomic Energy Commission head Shaul Horev said at the International Atomic Energy Agency's annual General Conference in Vienna, Austria. "This is an idea born in other areas and alien to the reality and political culture of the area."

"Nuclear demilitarization in the Middle East, according to the Israeli position, will be possible only after the establishment of peace and trust among the states of the area, as a result of a local initiative, not of external coercion," Horev said.

"It cannot be imposed from outside. Regrettably, the realities in the Middle East are far from being conducive," AFP quoted him as saying. "The concept of a region free of weapons of mass destruction, that has never been put to the test, even in the most peaceful regions of the world, is certainly much less applicable to the current volatile and hostile Middle East."

Israel previously heard a plea from the Finnish conference "facilitator" to take part in the scheduled event.

Tel Aviv is the primary impediment to establishing a regional nuclear-weapon ban, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in comments reported on Wednesday by Iran's Fars News Agency. Tehran is widely thought to be pursuing a capability to build an atomic arsenal, though it has denied such allegations.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog should have full oversight of atomic assets in Israel and all other parts of the region, Kuwait asserted on Wednesday in comments published by the Federation of Arab News Agencies.

Kuwaiti Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammad al-Sallal pressed the U.N. organization to more forcefully seek to inspect all atomic sites internationally. Such audits aim to ensure that no atomic assets are diverted for military use in non-nuclear weapons states designated under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Al-Sallal said Israel's atomic holdings endanger all of its neighbors. Tel Aviv is not a signatory to the pact, but it is an IAEA participant.

Iran as well as Syria are "known for their clandestine pursuit of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction," Israel contended at the IAEA gathering. Tel Aviv carried out the 2007 airstrike that destroyed a Syrian facility believed to house an unfinished nuclear reactor; Damascus said the site was not involved in atomic activities.

Tel Aviv became a target of criticism from Damascus, which on Wednesday lashed certain world powers for tolerating Israel's presumed possession of a nuclear deterrent, Reuters reported.

"The fact that some influential states ... condone Israel's possession of nuclear capabilities and its failure to subject them to any international control exposes clearly the extent of double standards used by those states," Syrian envoy Bassam al-Sabbagh said.

The contradicting positions constitute "a threat to the region's security and stability and may even spark a nuclear arms race there," the diplomat said.

 

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