VIENNA (Reuters) - Arab and other Islamic nations, targeting Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal, pushed through a U.N. atomic watchdog resolution on Thursday calling on all Middle East nations to renounce atomic weapons.
The unusual vote was 53-2 but with 47 abstentions by Western and developing states, highlighting reservations that the move politicized the International Atomic Energy Agency’s work.
The decision was non-binding but symbolized tensions over Israel’s presumed nuclear might and shunning of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and it frayed the traditional consensus culture of the Vienna-based IAEA.
Israel is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, though it has never confirmed or denied it.
A similar resolution urging all Middle East nations to adopt IAEA safeguards on nuclear work passed overwhelmingly at last year’s IAEA general assembly, with only Israel and top ally the United States opposed, as they were again on Thursday.
Egypt reintroduced the resolution this year seeking full consensus but attached two new clauses that prompted Israel to demand a vote and European, other Western and non-aligned developing nations to abstain.
One clause urged all nations in the Middle East, pending creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) there, not to make or test nuclear arms or let them be deployed on their soil. The other urged big nuclear arms powers not to foil such a step.
“The new language threatened to bring new political issues into the IAEA that would ultimately detract from the technical role the IAEA plays in safeguarding nuclear material,” said a Western diplomat whose delegation abstained.
AVOID “DOUBLE STANDARDS”, EGYPT SAYS
Egyptian ambassador Ehab Fawzy said the U.N. General Assembly passed the same measure by consensus and IAEA members should follow suit to seek universal compliance with the NPT and “avoid double standards” in the Middle East.
Israel bemoaned the vote, saying that while a NWFZ was a commendable ideal, “we can have no illusions” as long as some Arab neighbors continue not to recognize the Jewish state, with Islamist Iran openly calling for its elimination.
Without peaceful relations in the region, “any steps diminishing security margins should be mutual. You aim high but start modestly with confidence-building, inevitably a long and enduring process,” said Israeli envoy Israel Michaeli.
Iran, under U.N. sanctions for refusing to halt a nuclear energy program seen as a possible covert bid for atom bombs, told the assembly that whoever opposed the resolution betrayed a “discriminatory” approach to Middle East security.
Arab diplomats point to a chronic imbalance of power in the Middle East caused by Israeli might and say it breeds instability and spurs others to seek mass-destruction weaponry.
European diplomats said their missions abstained because, while they backed universal IAEA non-proliferation controls in the Middle East, the amended resolution flouted the agency’s non-political ethos and sought to isolate a member state.
“The IAEA is not the place to solve complex Middle East political problems. This measure was not about finding rational solutions, or any consensus, but to score points and antagonize,” said a senior European Union diplomat.
The issue was expected to split the assembly again on its last day on Friday when Arabs intended to revive a resolution declaring Israel a “threat” and demanding it use atomic energy only for peaceful ends and join the NPT.
A year ago, Western nations sponsored a “no-action” ballot that prevented a vote on the “threat” resolution.
The sole EU nation to vote for Thursday’s resolution was staunchly anti-nuclear Ireland. China, India, Russia, Japan, Latin American and some African nations also voted yes.
additional reporting by Karin Strohecker