UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Signatories of the global anti-nuclear arms treaty on Friday backed a declaration proposing a 2012 conference to discuss banning weapons of mass destruction across the Middle East.
The creation of such a nuclear-free zone could ultimately force Israel to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and abandon any nuclear weapons it has.
But U.S. officials said such a zone could not be established until there was broad Arab-Israeli peace and Iran curbed its nuclear ambitions.
Creating such a zone could also force other countries in the region to give up any chemical or biological weapon programs they might have.
The declaration was adopted by consensus by all 189 parties to the treaty, including Israel’s ally, the United States, after a month-long meeting to review the NPT in New York.
In addition to calling for a conference that includes all states in the region, the declaration urged Israel to sign the NPT and put its nuclear facilities under U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
The chief U.S. delegate at the month-long meeting, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, had opposed naming Israel in the declaration, saying it undermined the idea of the 2012 conference.
Israel is presumed to have a sizable nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies it. It is the only Middle East state that has not signed the NPT and, like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, did not participate in the review conference.
Tauscher said Washington would work with countries in the region to organize a successful conference on creating a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.
But she added that the U.S. ability to do that “has been seriously jeopardized because the final document (approved by treaty signatories) singles out Israel in the Middle East section, a fact that the United States deeply regrets.”
Gary Samore, who oversees policy on weapons of mass destruction at the White House, said that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had warned Arab ambassadors in Washington this week that naming Israel in the final document would be a bad idea.
“The political symbolism of mentioning Israel in this way is very destructive,” he told reporters on a conference call
“I don’t know whether this conference will even happen,” Samore said. “We’re not going to convene a meeting unless we believe the conditions are right for having that meeting.”
The White House insisted that it would not put Israel under any pressure nor encourage it to do anything that would undermine its national security. It also denied entering into a deal with Egypt and other Arab states on the WMD-free zone.
“There is no deal between the U.S. and Egypt or any countries with regard to that particular issue,” U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones told Reuters in Washington.
Diplomats familiar with the talks, however, told Reuters the United States had agreed with the Arabs not to block consensus on the declaration but made clear it would make a statement after the declaration was adopted to complain about the naming of Israel.
British delegate John Duncan told the meeting the text on the Middle East had involved “difficult compromise for all parties involved.”
Tauscher also repeated what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said at the outset of the conference a month ago, that “Iran is the only country in this hall that has been found ... to be currently in non-compliance with its (NPT) nuclear safeguards obligations.”
The declaration also contained plans for further disarmament, strengthening global non-proliferation efforts and ensuring access to technology for peaceful uses.
The 1970 NPT is intended to stop the spread of atomic weapons, though it allowed the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia to keep their arsenals while calling on them to negotiate on disarmament.
Analysts say the treaty has been under pressure due to Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs and the failure of the five official nuclear states to disarm.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by David Storey
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