Rose Gottemoeller 248.88.
(photo credit: ap)
American and Israeli officials on Wednesday downplayed comments a US diplomat made a day earlier calling on Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"Universal adherence to the NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea... remains a fundamental objective of the United States," Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said.
She was speaking during a UN meeting to strengthen the treaty, and later declined to say whether Washington planned to pressure Israel to take any new measures to abandon its nuclear program or sign on to the NPT.
The comments were met with alarm in some quarters in Israel, which has never officially acknowledged having a nuclear weapons stockpile and has reached agreements on public ambiguity with the US.
The State Department, though, indicated Wednesday that there was no change in policy.
"The United States has long supported universal adherence to the [NPT]. We have urged all states that have not yet joined that treaty to do so," a State Department official said.
The official added that while the US had stated its support for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, "such goals can only be achieved in the context of progress toward a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and evidence that Iran is fully implementing and upholding the existing international agreements to which it is a party."
Israeli officials are also characterizing the comments as consistent with previous statements, with a Foreign Ministry officially saying "The US policy of wanting everyone to sign the NPT is well known to us," and that "her comments were very general."
They also denied speculation that the call on Israel to sign the pact was part of the US new policy of engagement with Iran.
Israeli nuclear expert Avner Cohen said there was "deep-seated Israel anxiety" that Washington would link eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat - presumably as part of negotiations with Teheran - with Israel giving up its own capabilities.
He said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would likely seek assurances that the US will continue a policy of silence on Israel's nuclear program in his meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House on May 18.
But Cohen, the University of Maryland-based author of Israel and the Bomb, added that the State Department official's qualification that the situation in the Middle East must change before a nuclear-free region can emerge was an indication that there was no change in US policy in the short-term.
"One should not ignore it completely, but one shouldn't read too much into it. It's a slight change of nuance with no operational component," he said, describing the reaction in Israel as "over-stated" and "over-exposed."
He attributed that change in nuance to the higher priority Democratic administrations tend to place on the NPT than Republican ones, saying that even if comments such as Gottemoeller's wouldn't have been common during the Bush administration, he had heard similar remarks under former president Bill Clinton.
On Wednesday, in fact, Obama reiterated previous statements backing the NPT, following up on earlier calls for a world free from nuclear weapons.
Perhaps as a response to the renewed US support for the NPT, and to stave off any potential pressure, Israeli officials are also attacking the NPT itself as failing to reach its own goals - hardly an argument for its adoption.
Officials in Jerusalem said that Iran, Libya and Syria all succeeded in developing nuclear programs despite signing onto the NPT, proof that the treaty was no panacea.