* Middle East nuclear talks originally planned for 2012
* But Israel did not say whether it would attend
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Nov 26 Iran criticised the United States
on Monday for announcing that talks on banning atomic arms in
the Middle East would not take place as planned this year,
accusing it of causing a "serious setback" to the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The U.S. State Department said on Friday that the
mid-December conference on creating a zone free of weapons of
mass destruction would not occur and did not make clear when, or
whether, it would take place.
Iran, which is accused by the West of developing a nuclear
weapons capability, said this month it would participate in the
meeting that had been due to take place in Helsinki, Finland.
Asked about the U.S. announcement, Iranian nuclear envoy Ali
Asghar Soltanieh told state broadcaster Press TV from Vienna:
"It is a serious setback to the NPT and this is a clear sign
that the U.S. is not committed to the obligation of a world free
of nuclear weapons."
Even if the talks eventually occur, Western diplomats and
experts 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 programme.
Washington feared the conference could be used as a forum to
criticise i ts ally Israel - widely believed to be the volatile
region's only nuclear-armed state - a concern only likely to
have increased after eight days of fierce Israeli-Palestinian
fighting that ended with a ceasefire last week.
Israel, which says say Tehran is the Middle East's main
proliferation threat, had not said whether it would attend.
Iran and Arab states often say Israel's presumed nuclear
arsenal poses a threat to Middle East peace and security.
The plan for a meeting to lay the groundwork for the
possible creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass
destruction was agreed at a 2010 conference of 189 parties to
the 1970 NPT, a treaty designed to prevent the spread of nuclear
arms in the world.
Israel, which neither confirms nor denies having nuclear
arms, is not a signatory.
U.S. and Israeli officials have said a nuclear arms-free
zone in the Middle East could not be a reality until there was
broad Arab-Israeli peace and Iran curbed its nuclear programme,
which Tehran says is for peaceful energy and research purposes.
Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the U.N. nuclear agency,
said: "The U.S. has taken hostage this Helsinki conference for
the sake of Israel ... they want to support the Israelis'
nuclear weapon capability."
Some Western diplomats said they suspected that Tehran only
agreed to attend the Helsinki talks once it had become clear
they were likely to be postponed anyway.
The two other co-sponsors of the meeting together with the
United States - Russia and Britain - signalled in separate
statements at the weekend their hope for a delay to be as short
as possible and that the talks could be held next year instead.
The U.S. State Department said it would keep working to try
to bring about a meeting, adding such a gathering must take into
account the security of all the states in the region and operate
on the basis of consensus.