November 5, 2013 / 1:51 PM / 5 years ago

Iran, Israel attended Middle East nuclear meeting: diplomats

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran, Israel and Arab states took part in a meeting two weeks ago about prospects for an international conference on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, diplomats said on Tuesday, a rare such gathering of regional adversaries.

They gave no details about the October 21-22 meeting in the Swiss village of Glion near Montreux. An Israeli official said various envoys set out their national positions but Israel had no direct communication with Iranian and Arab delegates.

An Arab diplomat told Reuters: “That they were there, the Israelis and Iran, is the main thing.” The discussions were also attended by representatives of the United States and some Arab states, the diplomat added, without naming them.

There were 13-14 delegations around the table and Finnish Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary of State Jaakko Laajava, who is charged with organizing the Middle East conference, was among the participants, another diplomat said.

The discussions were “quite constructive,” the diplomat said, adding that another meeting was likely later this month, although it was still unclear exactly who would attend.

Israel is widely believed to possess the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, drawing frequent condemnation by Arab countries and Iran, which say it threatens peace and security.

U.S. and Israeli officials see Iran’s atomic activity as the main proliferation threat and say a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East is not feasible without a broad Arab-Israeli peace and verifiable limits on the Iranian nuclear program.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only for civilian energy, not for potential nuclear weapons fuel as the West suspects.

A plan for an international conference to lay the groundwork for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction was agreed in 2010, co-sponsored by Russia, the United States and Britain.

But Washington said the conference would be delayed just before it was due to be held in late 2012, and no new date has been announced.

The June election of Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who has pledged to try to resolve the decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic activities, as new Iranian president has raised hopes of a peaceful settlement with world powers.

Iran and the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia are to hold a new round of negotiations in Geneva on Thursday and Friday.

Israel has warned against what it calls an Iranian “charm offensive” and accuses Tehran of diplomatic stalling while it builds up the capability to produce nuclear weaponry.

The Israeli official, speaking in Jerusalem on Monday, described the October 21-22 meeting as a “preparatory session, of sorts”, ahead of the planned Middle East conference.

“There were no contacts between our representative and Arab or Iranian representatives, not direct nor indirect. The meeting was mainly technical,” the Israeli official said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Ritsuko Ando in Helsinki; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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