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Updated: May 5, 2010 11:50 IST

Arab states spotlight Israel at nuclear meeting

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) conference at United Nations headquarters, on Monday. Photo: AP.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) conference at United Nations headquarters, on Monday. Photo: AP.

Arab countries sought to turn attention to Israel on Tuesday as delegates from 189 countries debated how to stem the spread of nuclear weapons.

On the second day of the month-long meeting at the United Nations, Arab countries were reiterating calls for a nuclear—free Middle East with criticism of Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear arsenal and failure to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

The first day of the conference was dominated by rhetorical crossfire between the United States and Iran, as Washington pushed for the U.N. Security Council to approve new sanctions against Iran.

On Tuesday, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh expressed frustration at the lack of progress on implementing a nuclear—free Middle East, a goal that was declared in a resolution of a previous meeting of NPT signatories.

He said that Israel’s failure to sign the NPT and allow international monitoring of its nuclear programme “renders the NPT a source of instability in the Middle East.”

Egypt has proposed that this 2010 NPT conference back a plan calling for the start of negotiations next year on such a Mideast zone. The proposal may become a major debating point in the month-long session.

The United States has cautiously supported the idea while saying that implementing the idea must wait for progress in the Middle East peace process. The position reflected a middle ground as the Obama administration sought to satisfy Arab countries while keeping the spotlight of the conference on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Speaking on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the United States was “prepared to support practical measures” toward a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Tuesday suggested that the U.S. and Russian diplomats were discussing the issue and making progress.

“In recent weeks, we have managed to develop a joint approach with the United States,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ahmadinejad continued his campaign to stall the U.S. push for new sanctions. He scheduled a news conference on Tuesday afternoon. On Monday, addressing the conference, he rejected the U.S. allegations about Iran’s nuclear programme, saying Washington has offered not “a single credible proof” that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons. Iran says it only wants the technology for producing nuclear power.

The debate about Iran dominated the first day of the NPT conference. The treaty is formally reviewed every five years at a meeting of treaty members” which include all the world’s nations except India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, all of which either have confirmed or are believed to have nuclear weapons.

The review conference is meant to produce a final document pointing toward ways to better achieve the NPT’s goals of checking the spread of nuclear weapons, while working toward reducing and eventually eliminating them.

Because it requires a consensus of all parties, including Iran, any final document would be highly unlikely to censure the Tehran government, which would block consensus.

U.S. officials have said they will seek to isolate Iran at the conference and to produce an unofficial document calling for stricter enforcement of the NPT that could be signed by the overwhelming majority of signatory countries.

As delegates assess the state of the NPT at the United Nations, American and European diplomats will be working elsewhere to reach agreement with the sometimes reluctant China and Russia on a fourth round of U.N. Security Council economic sanctions against Iran.

Keywords: Nuclear weapons

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