Nuke-free ME popular at NPT summit

Egypt: Success with Iran depends on creating nuclear-free zone.

By E.B. SOLOMONT JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
May 5, 2010 04:42
3 minute read.
ahmadinejad hand clap

ahmadinejad hand clap 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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UNITED NATIONS – Against the backdrop of US pressure to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, attention is turning to Israel and the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.

On the second day of the monthlong UN conference on nonproliferation, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh noted a lack of progress on implementing a 1995 resolution calling for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Israel’s failure to sign the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, he said, “renders the NPT a source of instability in the Middle East.”

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A day earlier, the United States reaffirmed its support for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. The US was one of the original sponsors of the 1995 resolution.

But a nuanced American position could impact any final agreement reached at the end of this month’s conference, especially given the US focus on Iran.

“Given the lack of a comprehensive regional peace and concerns about some countries’ compliance with NPT safeguards, the conditions for such a zone do not yet exist,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in New York on Monday. “But we are prepared to support practical measures for moving toward that objective.”

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Also on Monday, the US revealed details about its nuclear arsenal for the first time. The Pentagon said the US maintained 5,113 nuclear warheads in its stockpile and has “several thousand” more retired nuclear weapons that are going to be dismantled. The stockpile represents a 75-percent reduction since 1989.

“For those who doubt that the United States will do its part on disarmament, this is our record, these are our commitments, and they send a clear, unmistakable signal,” Clinton said during a speech at the NPT conference.

Ahead of the conference, Egypt said establishing a nuclear-free Middle East was a key to dealing with Iran. Egypt submitted a working paper at the NPT review conference that urges signatories to implement the 1995 resolution and asks Israel to sign the treaty as soon as possible.

“Success in dealing with Iran will depend, to a large extent, on how successfully we deal with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the region,” Egyptian Ambassador to the UN Maged Abdel Aziz said.

Earlier in the day, Hisham Badr, Egyptian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, spoke to the conference on behalf of the New Agenda coalition, made up of Egypt, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and Sweden.

“The 1995 Middle East resolution is a matter of paramount importance. To date, no progress has been achieved on the establishment of a weapons-free zone in that region,” he said. “The conference should renew its call to Israel as the only state of the region not yet a party to the treaty to accede to it” promptly and “without conditions,” he said.

Israel is widely believed to have roughly 200 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, the existence of which it has not confirmed or denied. Three countries – Israel, India and Pakistan – are not party to the NPT and are not participating in the review conference.

US officials have said they support all countries signing the NPT. But at the outset, the United States and Iran sparred from the podium in the General Assembly hall.

“Regrettably, the government of the United States has not only used nuclear weapons, but also continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries, including Iran,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, calling nuclear weapons “disgusting and shameful.”

'The onus is on Iran'

Several countries walked out, including the American delegation and several members of the European Union.

In an unusual move, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left the GA hall after his own remarks, effectively avoiding the Iranian leader’s speech.

“Let us be clear, the onus is on Iran to clarify the doubt and concerns about their program,” Ban said during his own address.

Taking the podium on Monday afternoon, Clinton characterized Ahmadinejad’s speech as full of “wild accusations” against the US and others.

“Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record and to attempt to evade accountability,” she said. She noted that Iran is the only NPT signatory found by the IAEA to be in noncompliance with its nuclear safeguard obligations. “That is why it is facing increasing isolation and pressure from the international community,” she said.

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