* Doubts over proposed Middle East nuclear conference
* Israeli officials also attended Brussels seminar
* But Jewish state's participation in Helsinki is uncertain
* Israel, U.S. regard Iran as main proliferation threat
By Adrian Croft
BRUSSELS, Nov 6 Iran said on Tuesday it would go
to a proposed international conference in December on creating a
nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, but there was little hope
of progress even if the meeting goes ahead given deep-rooted
Tehran has been embroiled in a long stand-off with world
powers over allegations, which it denies, that it is seeking to
develop the means to produce nuclear weapons.
No date has yet been set for the meeting in the Finnish
capital later this year to discuss banning atomic arms and other
weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the volatile Middle East
and there are doubts over whether it will take place.
Even if it does go ahead - Israel, believed to have the
Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has yet to say whether it
will attend - Western diplomats expect little progress soon.
Iran used a seminar in Brussels attended also by officials
from Israel- its arch-enemy - to announce it would be at the
"The Islamic Republic of Iran now finally has decided to
participate at the conference...on a Middle East (nuclear) free
zone," Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the U.N.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters.
Soltanieh said Iran was "determined to participate actively"
in the Helsinki conference, which he said could pave the way for
a world free of nuclear weapons.
Iran and Arab states often say Israel's presumed nuclear
arsenal poses a threat to Middle East peace and security.
The Jewish state and Western powers see Iran as the region's
main nuclear proliferation threat.
"We are of the strong belief that all countries should be
mobilising themselves to make sure that this noble goal of a
Middle East free from all the weapons of mass destruction will
be realised," Soltanieh said.
The invitation-only seminar organised by think-tanks that
Soltanieh attended in Brussels was aimed at promoting efforts to
hold the Helsinki meeting.
Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry,
said Jeremy Issacharoff, deputy director-general for strategic
affairs in the ministry, was also at the seminar but that there
were no contacts between the Israeli and Iranian delegates.
"This was a professional seminar, which naturally involved
delegations from various countries including Israel. Our
delegation was made up of counter-proliferation specialists, but
no one of a senior statecraft capacity," he said.
Iran has held years of on-off negotiations with Western
powers over its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is for
peaceful purposes but which the West suspects is aimed at
developing a nuclear weapons option.
Israel, the only regional state not to belong to the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty, has said it would sign the NPT and
renounce atomic arms only as part of a broader peace deal with
Arab states and Iran that guaranteed its security.
Israel has never confirmed or denied having nuclear weapons
under a policy of ambiguity aimed at deterrence and, like the
United States, has not ruled out military action to prevent Iran
from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Soltanieh made clear his country would raise the issue of
Israel's nuclear capabilities in Helsinki. "We cannot tolerate
the situation...that Israel is outside of the NPT, has a nuclear
weapon capability," he said.
Ali Vaez, Iran expert at the International Crisis Group
think-tank, said two goals lay behind Iran's decision to take
part in the Helsinki conference.
"Iran is aiming to hit two birds with one stone: reject the
notion that it is a nuclear outlier, and paint Israel as the
only nuclear outcast in the region," he said.
Daryl Kimball, of the Washington-based Arms Control
Association, a research and advocacy group, said a Middle East
zone free of weapons of mass destruction was a daunting and
distant goal but the time to begin work towards it was now.
Israeli leaders could use the Helsinki meeting to "highlight
the need for a balanced approach and action on overdue steps
that verifiably curtail the WMD potential of its neighbours,
including the threats posed by Syria's chemical arsenal, Iran's
uranium-enrichment programme, and more," he said.