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World Powers Call for Nuke-Free Middle East

(May. 5) -Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, shown earlier this year, today said Moscow and Washington were working together on a proposal to create a Middle Eastern nuclear weapon-free zone (Don Emmert/Getty Images). (May. 5) -Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, shown earlier this year, today said Moscow and Washington were working together on a proposal to create a Middle Eastern nuclear weapon-free zone (Don Emmert/Getty Images).

The five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations today called for the establishment of a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East, Reuters reported (see GSN, May 3).

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty member nations issued a resolution in 1995 calling for such a zone, but have failed to make it a reality.

"We are committed to a full implementation of the 1995 NPT resolution on the Middle East and we support all ongoing efforts to this end," says a joint statement issued by China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"We are ready to consider all relevant proposals in the course of the (NPT) review conference in order to come to an agreed decision aimed at taking concrete steps in this direction," the nations said in the first days of the conference (see related GSN story, today).

"We urge those states that are not parties to the treaty to accede as non-nuclear weapon states and pending accession to the NPT, to adhere to its terms," the document adds. Israel has not joined the treaty and does not publicly acknowledge its widely presumed nuclear arsenal, the only one established to date in the region (Louis Charbonneau, Reuters I, May 5).

U.S. diplomats were working yesterday to soften an Egyptian proposal for talks on a pact that would establish the Middle Eastern nuclear weapon-free zone, Agence France-Presse reported.

Cairo has called for firm plans to schedule negotiations on the agreement, while Washington wants to make the talks contingent on meaningful gains in the Arab-Israeli peace process, according to diplomats.

"We're not there yet but we are talking," one Arab diplomat said.

"A conference should look at whatever steps are necessary to move forward," an Arab diplomat said. "But we expect it would be one which would launch negotiations on a zone and not just be a talk shop."

Failure to resolve the issue could hamper agreement on other issues at the NPT review meeting, where all plans must be agreed to by consensus. The last session, in 2005, ended in failure (Michael Adler, Agence France-Presse/Google News, May 4).

Russia and the United States were working together on a proposal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said today. "In recent weeks, we have managed to develop a joint approach with the United States," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

Ryabkov said the two nations are seeking a "common denominator" approach that could be taken up in the place of proposals put forward by Egypt and Algeria.

Proposals being considered at the conference involved designation of a "special coordinator" to plan for talks on a pact or planning a regional meeting next year on the matter.

A total of 116 in five regions -- Africa, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the South Pacific and Latin America -- area already covered by nuclear weapon-free zones. The matter of a Middle East zone is becoming a higher priority as nations in the region acquire nuclear power technology and consider their response to Iran's disputed atomic activities, according to AP.

Israel's emphasis on securing peace before moving ahead with plans for the zone are a major obstacle to the plan (Charles Hanley, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, May 5).

Washington is "prepared to support practical measures" toward "the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday.

Clinton was referring to "practical measures" to help "create conditions that allow us to advance this concept (of a nuclear weapons-free zone). Peace negotiations would be one of them," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Egyptian Ambassador Hisham Badr yesterday demanded that NPT signatories take "concrete and practical steps" toward "the establishment of a Middle Eastern zone free of nuclear weapons, as well as other weapons of mass destruction." Cairo has also called for Israel to join the nonproliferation treaty (Adler, AFP).

Israel has tried to redirect Egypt's focus to Iran, Reuters reported. Diplomats from Jerusalem relayed their thoughts during a meeting Sunday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"Remember, Iran is the real problem," one visitor reportedly told Egyptian officials.

"They know Iran is the problem, but they feel they can't support a campaign against Iran without also putting pressure on Israel," according to an Israeli official (Dan Williams, Reuters II, May 4).

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