U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday declared the need for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, telling the United Nations General Assembly that the U.S. was '"prepared to support practical measures for achieving that objective".
"We support efforts to realize the goal of a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free-zone in the Middle East in accordance with the 1995 Middle East resolution," Clinton told delegates at the opening of a month-long review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York.
"The Middle East may present the greatest threat of nuclear proliferation in the world today."
Clinton added that several states in the region had failed to conform to the international non-proliferation treaty, known as the NPT.
She said: "Adherence to the NPT is not universal. And a few countries that are parties to the NPT have violated their treaty obligations. But in spite of these difficulties, we want to reaffirm our commitment to the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, and we are prepared to support practical measures for achieving that objective."
Israel, which is widely believed to have nuclear weapons, is the only country in the Middle East not to have signed the treaty and, along with India and Pakistan, one of only three countries worldwide outside the agreement. Iran, though a signatory, is accused by the West of flouting treaty requirements to disclose its nuclear activities.
In her speech, Clinton took a strong line against Iran, saying its nuclear ambitions put the world at risk and calling on the global community to hold Tehran to account.
"Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record in an attempt to evade accountability," Clinton told delegates to the conference, where the dispute over Iran's nuclear program has seized center stage.
"Iran is the only country represented in this hall that has beenf ound by the IAEA board of governors to be currently in noncompliance with its nuclear safeguard obligations."
She added: "The only one. It has defied the UN Security Council and the IAEA and placed the future of the non-proliferation regime in jeopardy. And that is why it is facing increasing isolation and pressure from the international community.
"But Iran will not succeed in its efforts to divert and divide.The United States and the great majority of the nations represented here come to this conference with a much larger agenda: to strengthen a global non-proliferation regime that advances the security of all nations, to advance both our rights and our responsibilities.," said Clinton.
U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, said countries that ignore their obligations under the NPT would find themselves less secure and more isolated.
Obama did not mention Iran by name in his statement which came after the U.S. delegation walked out of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's address to the 189 signatories of the 1970 Treaty hours.
"Nations that ignore their obligations find themselves less secure, less prosperous and more isolated. That is the choice nations must make," Obama said.
Coinciding with Clinton's address, the Obama administration released a more precise accounting of the U.S. nuclear arsenal Monday, military and other U.S. officials said, shedding new light on a secretive arsenal born in the Cold War and now shrinking rapidly.
Western delegates walk out of Ahmadinejad speech
Delegates from a number of Western nations walked out of the United Nations General Assembly chamber on Monday as Ahmadinejad began his address to the opening of a month-long nuclear review conference, hours before Clinton's speech.
Israel deliberately took absence from the summit as it began its review of the NPT at the UN headquarters in New York. Representatives of the United States, Britain, France, Hungary, New Zealand and the Netherlands were among the countries that walked out as Ahmadinejad took to the podium.
While a number of foreign dignatories were expected to address the review summit, Ahmadinejad was the only head of state to deliver a speech.
In his address, Ahmadinejad blamed failure for global nuclear disarmament on the "policies and practices of certain states, as well as the inefficacy of the NPT and the imbalance that it curtails."
"Some… including the Zionist regime, have been equipped with nuclear arms, despite international measures to promote disarmament," Ahmadinejad told a meeting of the 189 signatories of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
"The Zionist regime too consistently threatens Middle Eastern countries with its nuclear arsenal," he added.
Ahmadinejad also called for states that threaten to use atomic weapons to be punished, a clear reference to a new U.S. nuclear strategy released last month.
The Iran leader urged the NPT signatories to begin "considering any threat to use nuclear weapons or attack against peaceful nuclear facilities as a breach of international peace and security."
Such threats should meet with "swift reaction from the United Nations and termination of all cooperation of NPT member states with the threatening aggressor state," Ahmadinejad said.
Among the punishments Ahmadinejad said should be meted out to countries that use, or threaten to use, atomic weapons against other nations was suspension from the board of governors of the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna.
The United States' so-called nuclear posture review reduces the role of atomic weapons in U.S. defense policy but does not rule out the use of nuclear warheads against countries like Iran and North Korea that are considered to be NPT violators.
Both the United States and Israel have suggested that they could use military force against Iranian nuclear facilities, which they suspect are part of a covert atomic weapons program. Iran denies pursuing atomic weapons and insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to peacefully generating electricity.
The White House responded to Ahmadinejad's speech by deeming it full of wild
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Ahmadinejad's speech was predictable in failing to
speak about the obligations his country has not lived up to in dealing with its nuclear program. In refusing to live up to those obligations, Gibbs said, Iran is becoming further isolated in the world community.
UN chief to Iran: Prove your nuclear program is peaceful
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opened the conference on Monday by challenging Iran to provide proof that its advanced nuclear programs were for peaceful purposes, amid the international row that has surrounded Tehran's atomic ambitions.
"I encourage the president of Iran to engage constructively," Ban told He made the comments just moments before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began his address to the body.
"Let us be clear: the onus in on Iran to clarify the doubts and concerns about its programs," Ban said. The United States and its allies are pushing for UN Security Council sanctions to punish the Islamic republic over its nuclear activities, which they believe are aimed toward developing atomic weapons.
In his opening address to the summit, the UN chief called on Iran to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and "fully cooperate" with the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA].
"I encourage Iran to accept the nuclear fuel supply proposal put forward by the agency," he said. "This would be an important confidence-building measure."
He also urged action to rid the world of nuclear weapons. "The world's people look to you for action," Ban told a packed UN General Assembly with government envoys attending the conference held once every five years to assess progress in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.
Ban said eliminating nuclear weapons is a possibility, but the UN agenda on disarmament has been "asleep for too long."
"Sixty-five years later, the world still lives under the nuclear shadow," Ban said referring to the atomic bomb set off by the United States over Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945, which put an end to World War II in the Pacific. Ban said he will travel to Japan this year to mark the 65th anniversary.
"How long must we wait to rid ourselves of this threat?" he said in an address opening the conference. "How long will we keep passing the problem to succeeding generations?"
Ban proposed a five-point plan to make the NPT conference a success, including a demand for the world's nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, China, France and China - to unequivocally undertake to eliminate their arsenals of nuclear warheads. There are an estimated 23,000 warheads in the arsenals of those five countries and other countries with nuclear capability.
Ahmadinejad: Iran has 'practical and fair' nuclear proposals
Speaking to Iranian media upon arrival in New York, Ahmadinejad said that Iran would put forward "practical and fair" proposals on disarmament and world security at the conference, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported.
Western diplomats expected Ahmadinejad to mark its opening by accusing the United States of using fears about proliferation as a pretext to deny developing nations access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in breach of the NPT.
Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter, says its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity, not bombs.
It has often said nuclear arms have no place in its defense doctrine and called on the United States and other countries with such weapons to dismantle them.
"Iran will submit practical, fair and clear proposals in regard to world security and disarmament in this conference," Ahmadinejad said, without giving details.
"Disarmament and the peaceful application of nuclear energy are two important world topics. The Islamic Republic regards disarmament as an influential topic in world peace and will follow up on that," Ahmadinejad added, Mehr reported.