Russia joins U.S., Britain in backing Israel's opposition to nuclear-free Mideast
The International Atomic Energy Agency is convening now in Vienna for forum on the matter; Israel believes peace must come before nuclear-free zone achieved.
Russia has joined the U.S. and Britain in backing Israel's view that the Middle East cannot be turned into a zone free of nuclear arms without progress on peace in the region.
The three stations told dozens of representatives from the Middle East and the international community gathered Tuesday at the United Nations nuclear watchdog's headquarters in Vienna that such zones "do no exist in isolation from other security factors."
That dovetails with Israel's view that peace must prevail in the Middle East before it can be made into a nuclear free zone. But it clashes with the Arab position that the two issues are separate. The Arabs say Israel's undeclared nuclear arsenal is the biggest threat to Mideast peace.
The statement to the closed meeting was made available to The Associated Press.
The first meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency dealing with a nuclear-free Middle East assembled on Monday, with Israeli representatives describing the Arab nations' criticism of Israeli nuclear policy as unexpectedly sedate.
As a result of Iran's boycotting of the meeting, the most critical of the Arab IAEA members was Syria, whose representative depicted Israel's alleged undeclared nuclear arsenal as a "grave and serious threat."
But officials reporting on the closed meeting said that except for Syria and Lebanon, its lockstep ally, other Arab nations speaking at the meeting were lower-key than usual in chastising Israel refusing to open its nuclear program to UN perusal.
One Israeli official, who agreed to speak under conditions of anonymity said the atmosphere was "much less confrontational, much less hostile" than at other IAEA gatherings focused on the Middle East, which traditionally see Muslim nations speaking with one strongly critical voice about Israel's nuclear capabilities.
A spokesperson for Israel Atomic Energy Commission told Haaretz that Israel decided to go ahead with the special meeting after it was decided discussion would.
Israel's traditional position is that a serious discussion of a nuclear-free Mideast would only take place after certain ground rules were established, such as recognition of Israel by the Arab states, as well as peace agreements that would include security arrangements and an agreement on regional disarmament from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.
The session is not expected to reach any decisions, but serves as a precedent by having taken place.
In toning down their comments, most Mideast participants at the 97-nation meeting appeared to be heeding an appeal by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano.
In opening remarks made available to reporters, Amano urged Mideast nations to focus on "fresh thinking," adding he hoped they would be able to move "beyond simply restating long-established positions."
Officials and participants warned against high expectations at the gathering, which is hearing presentations on already established nuclear-free zones elsewhere as a way of stimulating discussion on the Middle East and is not meant to reach any decisions.
A decision last year by the 189 members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation treaty to convene a UN-sponsored conference on establishing a Middle East nuclear-free zone in 2012 was an incentive for most of the region's Muslim nations to meet this year with Israel for the exploratory Vienna talks.