VIENNA - Member states of the UN atomic agency held rare calm,
constructive discussions on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East,
participants said on Tuesday, but absent Iran dismissed the meeting as a
"waste of time."
Israel and its Arab neighbors took part in the
November 21-22 forum hosted by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA), seen as a chance to help start a dialogue on the divisive issue
of nuclear arms in the volatile region.
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no concrete outcome was expected at the closed-door meeting, one
official said the talks were "calm and professional, not fiery at all,"
unlike the heated rhetoric that usually erupts between regional
Iran, which said it would boycott the forum after
IAEA member nations on Friday passed a resolution rebuking it over its
nuclear program, said such meetings were of little use because of
arch-foe Israel's assumed atomic arsenal.
As long as Israel "is
in possession of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons, is not a
member of the NPT and doesn't allow inspection by the IAEA ... and
Western countries simply support it, such meetings will be superficial
and a waste of time," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
presumed to be the region's only nuclear power and its only country
that is not part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has said it
would sign the 1970 pact and renounce nuclear weapons only as part of a
broader Middle East peace deal with Arab states and Iran that guaranteed
Israel and the United States see Iran as the
region's main proliferation threat. Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear
weapons, but an IAEA report earlier this month lent independent weight
to the West's mounting suspicions.
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think that all countries should be determined to remove weapons of mass
destruction," the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin
Mehmanparast, told reporters in Tehran.
The forum in Vienna had
been billed as a symbolically significant bid to bring regional foes
together at the same venue, although diplomats had played down
expectations of what could be achieved. More than 90 countries attended
It could send a positive signal ahead of a planned international
conference in Finland next year to discuss establishing a zone free of
nuclear arms in the Middle East, still seen as a distant prospect by
The talks focused on the experiences of regions which have set up
Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ), including Africa and Latin America,
and how the Middle East can learn from them.
On the meeting's first day on Monday, Arab states, especially Syria,
took aim at Israel over the arsenal it is widely believed to possess but
has never officially confirmed.
Israel made clear its view that the region was not yet ready to
establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone and cited political instability,
hostilities and deep mistrust.
Finland has agreed to host a conference next year to discuss formally
banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The idea for the meeting
came from Egypt, which pushed for talks among all regional states on a
nuclear arms-free zone.