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Iran, Egypt ready for battle at nuclear meet

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran and Egypt are gearing up for battle against the United States and its allies over Israel and developing countries’ rights to atomic technology at a major meeting on the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad smiles after reading a message from Brazil's President's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva uring an official meeting with Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim in Tehran April 27, 2010. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to attend the conference, which opens on Monday and runs until May 28. He will be facing off with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who heads the U.S. delegation at the meeting at U.N. headquarters.

Western envoys expect Ahmadinejad to take a defiant stand against the United States and its Western allies, accusing them of trying to deprive developing states of nuclear technology while turning a blind eye towards Israel’s nuclear capability.

An Iranian diplomat in New York told Reuters that “this participation at the highest level is a demonstration of Iran’s firm commitment to the NPT and to the success of the review conference.” He declined to be identified by name.

The 189 signatories of the landmark 1970 arms control treaty -- which is intended to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and calls on those with atomic warheads to abandon them -- gather every five years to assess compliance with the pact and progress made towards achieving its goals.

The last NPT review conference in 2005 was widely considered a disaster. After weeks of procedural bickering led by the former U.S. administration, Egypt and Iran, the meeting ended with no agreement on a final declaration. NPT review conferences make decisions on the basis of consensus.

Analysts and U.N. diplomats hope things will be different this time and that the conference can breathe new life into a treaty that has failed to prevent North Korea from building a nuclear bomb or force Iran to stop uranium enrichment. A Pakistani-led illicit nuclear supply network and slow progress on disarmament have also highlighted the NPT’s weaknesses.

Israel is presumed to have a nuclear arsenal but does not confirm or deny it. Like India and Pakistan, it has not signed the NPT and will not participate in the conference.

Ahmadinejad is the highest-ranking official attending the conference. He will travel to New York as diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany are meeting nearly every day in Manhattan to hammer out a draft resolution imposing a fourth round of sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.

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The powerful 118-nation bloc of non-aligned developing nations, which Egypt chairs and Iran is a member of, issued a “plan of action” to eliminate nuclear weapons. The move appeared to bolster Egypt’s and Iran’s positions on Israel and against the nuclear weapons states.

Without mentioning the Jewish state by name, it called for the scrapping of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, further disarmament moves by the NPT’s five nuclear powers -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- and the negotiation of a treaty banning the use of atomic weapons and other steps.

“A successful conference would add legitimacy to the treaty at a time when its effectiveness is in doubt because of Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs,” David Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security, told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.

North Korea withdrew from the treaty in 2003 and tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009. Western powers have called for stiffer penalties for nations that withdraw from the pact, making tougher U.N. inspections mandatory, and other steps that would make it difficult for states to develop atomic weapons.

Western envoys say a successful meeting would yield a declaration that hits all three NPT pillars -- disarmament, non-proliferation, and peaceful use of nuclear energy.

They said U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration, unlike that of his predecessor George W. Bush, who in 2005 opposed reaffirmation of previous disarmament pledges, was trying to promote a unanimous agreement at the conference.

This time, diplomats said, it was France that was actively opposing a proposed reaffirmation of disarmament pledges made at an NPT conference in 2000 -- despite public statements from Paris that it is committed to disarming. A spokesman for France’s U.N. mission called the envoys’ remarks “inaccurate.”

A new strategy reduces atomic arms’ role in U.S. defence policy. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said a new U.S.-Russian arms reduction deal and other steps showed “how committed the United States is to the non-proliferation regime and to disarmament.”

Speaking to reporters this week, Egypt’s U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said it was important not to focus exclusively on the nuclear threat posed by Iran.

“Success in dealing with Iran will depend to a large extent on how successfully we deal with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone” in the Middle East, Abdelaziz said.

Egypt has demanded an international meeting with Israel’s participation that would begin work on a treaty to establish a nuclear-arms-freeze zone in the Middle East.

Diplomats told Reuters that the United States, Russia and the other three permanent U.N. Security Council members were open to the idea and hope to strike a compromise with Cairo.

Editing by Stacey Joyce