September 18, 2009 / 3:16 PM / 8 years ago

U.N. body urges Israel to allow nuclear inspections

VIENNA (Reuters) - Arab states in the U.N. nuclear assembly on Friday won narrow approval of a resolution urging Israel to put all its atomic sites under U.N. inspection and join the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The Jewish state deplored the measure for singling it out while many of its Islamic neighbors remained hostile to its existence, and said it would not cooperate with it.

The non-binding resolution, which passed for the first time in 18 years of attempts thanks to more developing nation votes, voiced concern about "Israeli nuclear capabilities" and urged the International Atomic Energy Agency to tackle the issue.

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

Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, whose country's disputed nuclear program is under IAEA investigation, told reporters Friday's vote was a "glorious moment" and "a triumph for the oppressed nation of Palestine." Tehran was one of the 21 countries sponsoring the measure.

Iran absorbed a setback later when its bid to make legally binding a 1991 resolution banning attacks on nuclear sites failed to win a consensus from the bloc of Non-Aligned Movement developing nations and so was not brought up for a vote.

U.N. Security Council members Russia and China backed the Israel resolution, passed by a 49-45 margin by the IAEA's annual member states gathering. The vote split along Western and developing nation lines. There were 16 abstentions.

"Israel will not cooperate in any matter with this resolution which is only aiming at reinforcing political hostilities and lines of division in the Middle East region," chief Israeli delegate David Danieli told the chamber.

SINGLED OUT

Western states said it was unfair and counterproductive to isolate one member state. They said an IAEA resolution passed on Thursday, urging all Middle East nations to foreswear atomic bombs, included Israel and made Friday's proposal unnecessary.

Arab nations said Israel had brought the resolution on itself by having never signed the 40-year-old NPT.

Before the vote, U.S. Ambassador Glyn Davies said the resolution was "redundant ... Such an approach is highly politicized and does not address the complexities at play regarding crucial nuclear-related issues in the Middle East."

Calling the resolution "unbalanced," Canada tried to block a vote on the floor with a "no-action motion." But the procedural maneuver lost by an eight-vote margin. The same motion prevailed in 2007 and 2008s.

A senior diplomat from the non-aligned movement (NAM) of developing nations said times had changed.

"People and countries are bolder now, willing to call a spade a spade. You cannot hide or ignore the truth, the double standards, of Israel's nuclear capability forever," he said.

"The new U.S. (Obama) administration has certainly helped this thinking with its commitment to universal nuclear disarmament and nuclear weapons-free zones," they said.

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

The measure was last voted on in 1991 when it passed by 39-31 with 13 abstentions when IAEA membership was much smaller.

Since then there have only been official summaries of debate on this item or successful motions for adjournment or no action.

Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich

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