U.S. prevents Israel’s isolation at nuclear conference

NEW YORK, May 23 (JTA) — Israel was expected to escape the first conference on nuclear weapons in five years with only a mention of its status as the lone state in the Middle East to have not signed a global nonproliferation treaty.

Egypt had been lobbying behind the scenes at the conference, which ended Saturday, for the final statement to denounce and isolate Israel — as well as the only other nonsignatories: India, Pakistan and Cuba.

This would be the first time that such a document would explicitly single out nonsignatories.

The statement was expected to be released late Tuesday.

Israel did not participate in the month-long conference, nor did it send an observer, because it had not signed the treaty.

However, with the United States intervening on its behalf, Israel also avoided being forced to submit to inspections by a United Nations envoy or diplomatic mission.

In a draft of the final statement obtained by JTA early Tuesday, the conference “calls upon all states in the Middle East that have not yet done so, without exception, to accede to the Treaty as soon as possible and to place their nuclear facilities under full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards.”

It goes on to recognize that “all states of the region of the Middle East, with the exception of Israel, are states parties to the Treaty on the Non- Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.”

The conference “reaffirms the importance of Israel’s accession to the NPT and the placement of all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards.”

Israel has never officially confirmed that it owns nuclear weapons. Rather, officials say the mystery works as a deterrent to countries like Iraq and Iran, which have vowed to annihilate the Jewish state.

“Israel’s position is very clear: We have never objected to the principle of nuclear nonproliferation,” said an Israeli diplomat at the United Nations, who requested anonymity.

“But we believe this treaty is not the right tool for us to deal with our situation. The only solution should be on a regional basis, with direct discussions between parties themselves, as part of the peace process.”

“Agreement should come after peaceful relations are established, when nobody is threatening us or declaring its intent to destroy our country.”

In fact, the conference is said to have been the impetus for the announcement earlier this month that Egypt and Israel will soon hold their first- ever direct talks about nonproliferation.

The United States could not fully defend Israel from mention, as it has in the past, because U.S. officials reportedly wanted to exert pressure on India and Pakistan, both of whom recently successfully tested nuclear weapons.

In a compromise with Egypt, the United States also agreed to tone down its criticism of Iraq. It is expected that the final statement will only mention the “uncertainty” of Iraq fulfilling its nonproliferation commitment.

Overall, the document will recognize the pledge of an “unequivocal undertaking” by the five main nuclear powers — the United States, France, China, Russia and Great Britain — to one day eliminate their atomic arsenals.

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