VIENNA (Reuters) - The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog invited Israel last month to consider joining a global anti-nuclear arms pact but the Jewish state has dismissed the idea as a politically-motivated drive by Arab states.
A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Friday said Director General Yukiya Amano met with Israeli leaders during a visit to the country in August to discuss an Arab-led push for it to accede to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and put all its atomic sites under U.N. inspection.
In a letter attached to the report, Israel rejected the Arab drive as an attempt to divert attention from the Middle East’s “real proliferation challenges” of Iran and Syria.
Arab states won narrow backing last year for a non-binding IAEA assembly resolution urging Israel to sign the NPT, which would require it to forswear atomic arms. They are expected to propose a similar text for the annual meeting later this month.
Israel, widely assumed to be the region’s only country with nuclear weapons, condemned the resolution as being fueled by foes which question its existence. It has conditioned its joining the treaty on comprehensive Middle East peace.
The United States and its allies, which also voted against the Arab initiative, have warned that zeroing in on Israel could inhibit broader initiatives aimed at banning weapons of mass destruction throughout the Middle East.
Western diplomats said Amano’s trip to Israel was a direct result of last year’s resolution, which asked him to consult with “concerned states” and report back to the assembly, but they did not believe it would have any impact on Israeli policy.
The Japanese envoy’s report was published a day after Israeli and Palestinian leaders meeting in Washington agreed to a series of direct talks, seeking to forge the framework for a U.S.-backed peace deal within a year.
It said Amano during his visit to Israel had conveyed the IAEA assembly’s concern about Israeli nuclear capabilities and “invited Israel to consider to accede” to the NPT and “to place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards”, as requested by the resolution.
“I think this is something which is obligatory for him to do. He has to go through the motions,” said Shannon Kile at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Israel has never confirmed or denied having atom bombs under a policy of ambiguity to deter numerically superior adversaries. By staying outside the NPT, it has also foregone the access to civilian nuclear power which it arranges.
“The idea of them joining the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state is obviously a non-starter from the Israeli point of view,” Kile said.
Amano had asked IAEA member states for their views on how to implement the 2009 resolution on Israel and the answers, published in his report, highlighted deep divisions.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Arab-led IAEA resolution “would disrupt efforts to create favorable conditions” for a planned conference in 2012 to discuss creating a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
Iran, which rejects Western accusations it is seeking to develop nuclear bombs, said “Israel’s nuclear weapons activities ... seriously threaten both regional and international peace and security.”
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Noah Barkin