* Washington had not made it clear if talks would happen
* But Britain says it hopes they will occur next year
By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON, Nov 24 Britain said on Saturday it hoped
a conference on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East could
take place "as soon as possible", after the United States said
it would not be held next month.
The U.S. State Department said on Friday that the conference
could "not be convened because of present conditions in the
Middle East and the fact that states in the region have not
reached agreement on acceptable conditions for a conference".
It did not spell out when or if the event, originally
scheduled for December, would take place.
But Britain, which along with the United States, Russia and
the United Nations is ones of the organisers, made it clear that
the conference was only being postponed rather than cancelled
altogether, saying it backed efforts to hold it next year.
"We support the convening of a conference as soon as
possible. We endorse fully the work of the Conference
Facilitator, Finnish Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Laajava, to
build consensus on next steps," Foreign Office Minister Alistair
Burt said in a statement.
"We welcome his commitment to conduct further multilateral
consultations with the countries of the region to agree
arrangements for a conference in 2013," Burt said.
Washington had feared that the conference, which was to be
held in Finland, could be used as a forum to bash Israel, a
concern likely to have increased after eight days of
Israeli-Palestinian fighting that ended with a ceasefire on
Iran and Arab states often say Israel's presumed nuclear
arsenal poses a threat to Middle East peace and security. Israel
and Western powers see Iran as the main nuclear proliferation
threat, but Tehran denies any nuclear weapons ambitions.
The plan for a meeting to prepare the ground for the
possible creation of a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle
East was agreed to at a May 2010 conference of 189 parties to
the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.
Like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, Israel has never
signed the NPT. It neither confirms nor denies having nuclear
arms, although non-proliferation and security analysts believe
it has several hundred nuclear weapons.
Even if the talks do occur, Western diplomats and others
expect little progress any time soon due to the deep-rooted
animosities in the region, notably the Arab-Israeli conflict and
Israeli concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
Iran, Israel's arch foe, announced earlier this month it
would attend the conference, but some Western diplomats said
they thought Tehran may have only done so once it became clear
that the meeting was likely to be postponed anyway.