Iran: Middle East nuclear talks 'waste of time'

M. East foes stick to positions in rare nuclear talks; atmosphere calm, little "fiery" rhetoric; Iran boycotts "superficial" meeting.

Syrian ambassador to IAEA attends conference  R 311 (photo credit: Herwig Prammer / Reuters)
Syrian ambassador to IAEA attends conference R 311
(photo credit: Herwig Prammer / Reuters)
VIENNA - Member states of the UN atomic agency held rare calm, constructive discussions on banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, participants said on Tuesday, but absent Iran dismissed the meeting as a "waste of time."
Israel and its Arab neighbors took part in the November 21-22 forum hosted by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), seen as a chance to help start a dialogue on the divisive issue of nuclear arms in the volatile region.
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Although no concrete outcome was expected at the closed-door meeting, one official said the talks were "calm and professional, not fiery at all," unlike the heated rhetoric that usually erupts between regional adversaries.
Iran, which said it would boycott the forum after IAEA member nations on Friday passed a resolution rebuking it over its nuclear program, said such meetings were of little use because of arch-foe Israel's assumed atomic arsenal.
As long as Israel "is in possession of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons, is not a member of the NPT and doesn't allow inspection by the IAEA ... and Western countries simply support it, such meetings will be superficial and a waste of time," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Israel, presumed to be the region's only nuclear power and its only country that is not part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has said it would sign the 1970 pact and renounce nuclear weapons only as part of a broader Middle East peace deal with Arab states and Iran that guaranteed its security.
Israel and the United States see Iran as the region's main proliferation threat. Tehran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons, but an IAEA report earlier this month lent independent weight to the West's mounting suspicions.
2012 conference to be held in Finland
"We think that all countries should be determined to remove weapons of mass destruction," the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, told reporters in Tehran.
The forum in Vienna had been billed as a symbolically significant bid to bring regional foes together at the same venue, although diplomats had played down expectations of what could be achieved. More than 90 countries attended the talks.
It could send a positive signal ahead of a planned international conference in Finland next year to discuss establishing a zone free of nuclear arms in the Middle East, still seen as a distant prospect by many experts.
The talks focused on the experiences of regions which have set up Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones (NWFZ), including Africa and Latin America, and how the Middle East can learn from them.
On the meeting's first day on Monday, Arab states, especially Syria, took aim at Israel over the arsenal it is widely believed to possess but has never officially confirmed.
Israel made clear its view that the region was not yet ready to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone and cited political instability, hostilities and deep mistrust.
Finland has agreed to host a conference next year to discuss formally banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East. The idea for the meeting came from Egypt, which pushed for talks among all regional states on a nuclear arms-free zone.