IAEA meeting Director General Yukiya Amano 311 .
(photo credit: Herwig Prammer / Reuters)
VIENNA - Arab states and Israel plan to attend a rare round of talks
next week on efforts to free the world of nuclear weapons but Iran has
yet to say whether it will take part in the meeting in Vienna, diplomats
said on Wednesday.
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The Nov. 21-22 forum, hosted by the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is seen as symbolically significant
in seeking to bring regional foes together at the same venue and start a
dialogue, even though no concrete outcome is expected.
conducted smoothly with toned-down rhetoric on both sides, it could
send a positive signal ahead of a planned international conference next
year on ridding the Middle East of nuclear and other weapons of mass
"It is a good opportunity for everybody to sit and talk but I don't
think it is going to achieve a tangible result," a Western diplomat
Israel is widely believed to harbor the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, drawing frequent Arab and Iranian condemnation.
Jerusalem and Washington regard Iran as the region's main
proliferation threat, accusing Tehran of seeking to develop a nuclear
weapons capability in secret. An IAEA report last week added independent
weight to those allegations.
Convened by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, next week's discussions will focus
on the experiences of regions in the world which have set up
Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zones (NWFZ), including Africa and Latin America,
and their possible relevance for the Middle East.
IAEA member states decided in 2000 that such a meeting should be held
but until this year the parties involved were unable to agree on the
agenda and other issues.
All 151 IAEA member countries have been invited to the talks, to be
chaired by senior Norwegian diplomat Jan Petersen, but participating
envoys from the region will be in focus.
"The forum will consider the experience of five NWFZs and two regional
verification arrangements and discuss the potential relevance of such
experience to the creation of a NWFZ in the Middle East," the IAEA said
in a statement this week.
Diplomats said Israel and Arab states had accepted the invitation but
that there had as yet been no word from Iran, which in September said it
saw no justification for such a meeting now and took a swipe at
Israel, the only Middle East country outside the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has never confirmed or denied having
nuclear weapons under a policy of ambiguity.
Jerusalem has said it would only join the NPT if there is a comprehensive Middle
East peace with Arab states and Iran. If it signed
the 1970 treaty, Israel would have to renounce nuclear weaponry.
Arab states, backed by Iran, say Israel's stance poses a threat to regional peace and stability.
Last month, the United Nations said Finland had agreed to host a
potentially divisive international meeting in 2012 to discuss the
possible creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
The idea for such a conference came from Egypt, which pushed for a
meeting with all states in the Middle East to negotiate a treaty that
would establish a nuclear arms-free zone.
Washington's commitment will be key to the success or failure of next
year's talks, Western diplomats say, as it is the only state that can
persuade Israel to attend.