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(photo credit: Associated Press)
More than a dozen Arab nations failed to get a vote on a resolution labeling Israel's nuclear capabilities a threat on the final day of the International Atomic Energy Agency's annual meeting.
The draft resolution, which also called upon Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, was blocked from going to a vote Friday by Israel's allies and other nations.
The final session of the UN nuclear watchdog agency's week-long meeting did adopt a separate, nonbinding resolution calling on all Middle Eastern nations to accept IAEA safeguards and take steps toward the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone. Israel and the United States were the only two countries that voted against it. Three countries abstained.
The measure calling Israel's program a threat, which was co-sponsored by Iran, was kept from going to a vote after 45 nations backed a no-action motion by the Canadian delegate, effectively adjourning the debate Friday evening.
Among those supporting the effort to block the vote were the United States, Israel, France, Germany and Britain. Those abstaining included China, Russia and Nigeria, among others.
The 15 Arab nations behind the resolution, which would also have been nonbinding, had hoped to send a signal to Israel following its month-long war with Hizbullah.
"Peace and nuclear weapons are two enemies - there is no cohabitation," said Ramzy Ramzy, head of the Egyptian delegation to the meeting and his country's ambassador to Austria.
In co-sponsoring the resolution, Iran was also seeking to counter criticism of its own nuclear program, which the United States and others say is aimed at the production of atomic weapons. Iran insists it only wants to generate power.
"Iran ... has always called for establishing a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. ... It is of profound regret that this issue is trapped in a vicious cycle," said Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA.
Arab nations at the annual conference have regularly threatened to submit such a resolution, but in past years have opted instead to voice their concerns about Israel's nuclear program through a statement from the conference president, which carries less weight than a resolution.
The last time such a resolution was submitted at the annual IAEA conference was in 1991. It passed.
Israel neither confirms nor denies its nuclear status, but is considered to be the only nation in the region with nuclear weapons. Israel does not accept IAEA controls on its nuclear activities.
Israel's ambassador to the IAEA said efforts to bring security to the Middle East should be focused on peace efforts, not necessarily arms control.
"The fundamental goal in the Middle East, as in other regions, is obtaining regional peace, security and stability, not arms control per se," Ambassador Israel Michaeli said.
The draft resolution was submitted earlier this week by 15 nations: Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.