The United States, Russia, Britain, France and China on Wednesday voiced support for making the Middle East a nuclear-arms-free zone, which would mean Israel would have to scrap any atomic bombs in its possession.
"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," the five permanent UN Security Council members said in a unanimous statement issued at a conference taking stock of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The 1995 resolution adopted by signatories of the landmark arms control treaty called for making the Middle East a zone without nuclear arms.
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.
"This conference represents a pivotal turning point in the history of the treaty, and an opportunity that may be the last and that must be seized," Egyptian UN Ambassador Maged A. Abdelaziz told delegates Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Arab countries sought to turn attention to Israel as delegates from 189 countries debated how to stem the spread of nuclear weapons.
The Middle East would join five other nuclear-free regions - Africa, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the South Pacific and Latin America - covering some 116 countries that have outlawed the presence of atomic arms in their areas.
The U.S. and Israel are discussing what such practical measures might be, said a Western diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity about other countries' contacts.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, meanwhile, said Moscow is partnering with Washington on a draft plan. "In recent weeks, we have managed to develop a joint approach with the United States," Sergei A. Ryabkov told reporters.
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).
Meanwhile, 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."