Israel does not intend to reconsider its nuclear stance despite heightened calls from the United States and others for establishment of a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East, an Israeli government official said Friday (see GSN, May 6).
In an attempt to gain support from Arab nations for new sanctions targeting Iran, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- released a joint statement last week that urges forward movement on a 1995 proposal to see the Middle East rid of nuclear weapons. Israel is the only nation in the region that is believed to possess a nuclear deterrent, though it does not formally acknowledge its arsenal.
"There is nothing new here, and no reason for a change of direction on our part," the high-ranking official told Reuters.
Jerusalem has said it would not consider taking part in nuclear weapon-free zone discussions or joining the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty until a lasting peace is achieved with neighboring nations.
Egypt is hoping at this month's NPT review conference in New York to build support for scheduling a 2011 conference in which all Middle Eastern nations would discuss established the nuclear zone. Moscow and Washington, with the backing of the world's other three acknowledged nuclear powers, have been trying to broker an agreeable middle ground with Cairo, Western diplomats said.
The Obama administration's senior arms control official, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, said last Wednesday that it was difficult to contemplate discussions on setting up "any kind of free zone in the absence of a comprehensive peace plan that is running on a parallel track."
In light of President Barack Obama's efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Iran's controversial nuclear activities, some experts have speculated that Washington would reconsider its decades-old stance of not pressing Jerusalem to declare its presumed nuclear weapons stockpile, which is thought to contain about 200 bombs.
The Israeli official, however, said the Obama administration's position on Jerusalem's calculated nuclear ambiguity has been "identical" to the approach followed by its predecessors.
Some Israeli officials have been unhappy with their nation's profile at the NPT conference, Reuters reported.
"We don't really like this matter, but is there anything to fear, really? I don't think so," Israeli Atomic Energy Commission official Israel Michaeli said during a May 3 radio interview.
"Our complaint is that people make this comparison between Iran and Israel, when there is absolutely nothing to connect the two," he said (Dan Williams, Reuters, May 7).
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency has taken the step of placing consideration of "Israeli nuclear capabilities" on the agenda for its June 7 Board of Governors meeting. The agenda is not yet finalized and a high-ranking envoy from an IAEA board country said the Arab state-sought item might be removed should Washington or other countries vigorously protest its inclusion, the Associated Press reported.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog has never before examined Israel's widely assumed nuclear arsenal. That the matter has even been tentatively put on the agenda shows the impact that Arab nations are having in their calls for the international community to give more attention to Jerusalem's nuclear capabilities.
Agency board meetings normally include consideration of disputed nuclear programs in Syria and Iran. Including Israel could hurt Western efforts to maintain pressure on Damascus and Tehran over their nuclear ambitions and create further divisions within the board, according to AP (George Jahn, Associated Press/Washington Post, May 7).