(photo credit: AP [file])
A UN nuclear conference of 145 nations indirectly criticized Israel on Saturday for refusing to put its atomic program under international purview.
But Israel managed to evade being targeted by Islamic countries pushing for a vote to link it to nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
Iran spearheaded the verbal attack on the Jewish state, as it has done at past general conferences of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Israel is widely considered to have nuclear arms, according to foreign reports, but has a "no tell" policy on the issue.
Chief Iranian delegate Ali Ashgar Soltanieh said Israel's nuclear capabilities represent a "serious and continued threat to the security of neighboring and other states."
He took the United States and other Western backers of Israel to task for their "shameful silence" on what he said was the menace posed by Israel's atomic arsenal.
The meeting voted for a resolution urging all nations to open their nuclear activities to outside inspection and work toward the establishment of a Mideast nuclear weapons free zone. With Israel the only country in the region considered to have atomic arms, passage of the resolution constituted indirect criticism of the Jewish state.
The resolution called on all nations in the Middle East "not to develop, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons," and urged nuclear weapons states to "refrain from any action" hindering the establishment of a Mideast zone free of nuclear weapons.
But US and the European Union managed to block an effort by Muslim nations and their supporters to submit a resolution more directly critical of Israel and its "nuclear capabilities."
Although last year's meeting followed a similar pattern, the votes for and against the two motions reflected shifting dynamics on the issues.
On Saturday, delegations had so far voted 82-0 for establishing the Mideast nuclear weapons free zone, with Israel, Syria and the US among those abstaining. Last year it was 53 in favor, the US and Israel against, and 47 abstentions.
Part of the shift reflected Israel's success in pushing for the resolution to include language that was indirectly critical of Iran and Syria - two nations under IAEA review for possibly hiding undeclared nuclear activities.
The fact that the second motion more directly critical of Israel was only narrowly defeated indicated support for the Islamic nations was growing, particularly among developing countries. Of those present at the meeting, 46 nations voted against the motion, 43 voted for it, and seven abstained.
The issue of establishing a Mideast nuclear weapons free zone has been on the IAEA conference agenda for 16 years, though the vote Saturday was only the third on the topic.
The meeting usually tries for consensus, and the balloting reflected increased politicization over the Middle East dispute and, more recently, concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Iran was not formally on the agenda of the six-day meeting, which was scheduled to end later Saturday. But concerns about its nuclear defiance figured prominently in comments from a substantial number of Western delegations - something Soltanieh was critical of.
"Iran is not the issue of this conference," he told The Associated Press, adding that "Israel is the only case" in the context of a proliferation danger in the Mideast.
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