More IAEA nations back non-nuclear Mideast in vote

VIENNA Thu Sep 17, 2009 9:47pm EDT

VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear assembly on Thursday adopted a resolution urging all Middle East nations to foreswear atomic bombs in a symbolic vote showing increasing consensus for the measure.

Unlike last year when the vote was boycotted by most Arabs over amendments they felt took pressure off Israel, Thursday's ballot followed negotiations that prevented marathon wrangling.

Israel is one of only three countries worldwide along with India and Pakistan outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is widely assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, though it has never confirmed or denied it.

The non-binding ballot at the annual International Atomic Energy Agency assembly was 100-1 with four abstentions, compared with 82-0 with 13 abstentions in 2008.

Israel welcomed Arab states' readiness this year to adjust language objectionable to it but said it voted no because the draft retained a clause calling "upon all states in the region to accede" to the NPT.

The United States, Israel's closest ally, abstained from the vote but Ambassador Glyn Davies said Washington was committed to the goal of Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.

"We are very pleased with the agreed approach reflected here today," U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies said after the vote on establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East.

Efforts to achieve consensus were, as before, were thwarted by the insistence of Arab, Islamic and developing nations on the NPT accession clause.

Iran and Syria, both NPT members, are under IAEA investigation over suspicions of covert intentions to make atomic bombs. They deny the allegations.

Approving Thursday's resolution were all industrialized states except the United States, Canada, Georgia, which abstained, as did India. Asian, Latin American, African, Arab and Islamic states voted yes.

Israel argued that while a NWFZ is a commendable ideal, it is not feasible as long as some Arab neighbors continue not to recognize the Jewish state, with Islamist Iran openly calling for its elimination.

Arab diplomats point to an imbalance of power in the Middle East caused by unchecked Israeli power and say it breeds instability and spurs others to seek weapons of mass destruction.

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