Any Middle Eastern nuclear weapon-free zone must be preceded by robust nonproliferation measures and an enduring absence of armed conflict from the area, Israel told the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference on Tuesday (see GSN, Sept. 20).
The remarks by Israeli Atomic Energy Commission chief Shaul Chorev reaffirmed Jerusalem's standing posture, and they placed in question hopes for achieving a formal ban on nuclear armaments in the Middle East in the near future, according to Reuters.
Actions by outside powers are insufficient to foster a collaborative mood among Middle Eastern governments, though the sector's diplomatic environment might benefit from reform movements sweeping through a number of Arab nations, Chorev said.
Israel is widely assumed to possess nuclear weapons, though it abides by a longstanding policy of neither confirming nor denying it possesses such an arsenal. The country's nuclear stance has been the target of regular denunciations by Iran and Arab nations, which have called for U.N. inspections of all Israeli atomic sites. Washington and Jerusalem, though, believe Iranian atomic efforts comprise the primary threat to regional arms control efforts (see related GSN story, today).
The Israeli official faulted Syria and Iran over lingering international concerns that they might have pursued atomic activities with military implications.
"Comprehensive and durable regional peace and full compliance by all regional states with their arms control and nonproliferation obligations" are critical prerequisites to the declaration of a regional nuclear weapons ban, Chorev said. "The international experience has proven that such a zone can only emanate from within a region through direct negotiations. ... No majority vote in international fora can be a substitute for wide regional consent and cooperation."
Middle Eastern powers are slated in November to participate in an IAEA meeting on regional nuclear-weapon bans. Israel has supported the planned meeting, even amid "current disturbing events" and an effort by Arab states to place "Israeli Nuclear Capabilities" in the U.N. nuclear watchdog meeting's spotlight, Chorev said (see GSN, Sept. 15).
In a bid to advance regional arms control dialogues, Arab countries reportedly agreed not to pursue a resolution at the IAEA conference urging Jerusalem to sign onto the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Similar measures were pursued at the 2009 and 2010 meetings; the earlier measure passed, but last year's resolution was narrowly defeated, according to previous reports.
"I call upon the Arab states to abandon this annual political ritual," the Israeli official said (Shields/Dahl, Reuters, Sept. 20).
Separately, Kuwait's envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Tuesday lamented Israel's failure to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or permit IAEA audits of its atomic sites, steps he noted some nearby nations had taken, the Kuwait News Agency reported.
Kuwaiti Ambassador Mohammad al-Sallal urged governments worldwide to establish full-scope inspections arrangements with the Vienna, Austria-based organization, and to ink the agency's Additional Protocol.
The envoy commended IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano's effort to organize the planned November meeting, as well as efforts by Beijing, Moscow and Washington to lay the groundwork for a conference planned for 2012 on creating a regional WMD-free zone (see GSN, Sept. 7).
"This is an important and first step within the increasing global realization of the danger that Israel remains outside NPT," he said, adding that countries are entitled to establish civilian atomic capabilities.
Kuwait will contribute $10 million toward the creation of a planned international nuclear fuel repository to be overseen by the agency, al-Sallal said (see GSN, Feb. 23).
Iran should increase its transparency to IAEA investigators to address suspicions it could be pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, the diplomat added (Kuwait News Agency, Sept. 20).