Member states of the United Nations nuclear watchdog narrowly rejected an Arab-sponsored resolution on Friday calling on Israel to join a global anti-atomic weapons treaty, proving a diplomatic victory for the United States.
Washington had urged countries to vote down the symbolically important - although non-binding - resolution saying it could derail broader efforts to ban nuclear warheads in the Middle East and also send a negative signal to the relaunched Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Forty-six delegations voted in favor of the resolution, 51 against and 23 others abstained in the general assembly of the 151-member International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
It had approved a similar resolution expressing concern at "Israel's nuclear capabilities" in a close vote at last year's General Conference, as the annual IAEA gathering is known.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa criticized the IAEA's rejection of the resolution.
"There can't be a situation in which only one country possesses nuclear weapons," Moussa said at a press conference. "Why does Israel need to be the only one? If Israel maintains its nuclear weapons, the Middle East will slide in the wrong direction and enter an arms race."
President Shimon Peres welcomed the result of the IAEA vote.
"This was another attempt to exploit the international community to make an absurd anti-Israel decision," Peres said. "This time, Israel's preparedness and the attitude of the U.S., European Union and other friendly nations thwarted the attempt."
Israel had warned the Vienna gathering earlier on Friday that the Arab-led effort to single it out could deal a "fatal blow" to any cooperation on improving security in the Middle East.
"Adopting this resolution will be a fatal blow to any hope for future cooperative efforts toward better regional security in the Middle East," Israel's IAEA envoy Ehud Azoulay said, shortly before the vote.
Arab representatives said that Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal threatens regional peace and stability. Israel is the region's only country outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel says it will not consider joining the NPT until there is comprehensive Middle East peace.
If it signed the NPT, it would have to renounce nuclear weaponry. Arab states say there cannot be genuine peace in the Middle East until Israel gives up nuclear weapons.
Israel has never confirmed nor denied having atomic bombs.
Israel and the United States regard Iran as the Middle East's main proliferation threat, accusing it of seeking to develop atomic weapons in secret. Tehran rejects the charge.
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