Finland to host int'l meeting on ME nuclear-free zone

US fears conference, which is set for 2012, could be used as forum to bash Israel; Hague: Mideast free of WMD an "achievable goal."

Iranian President Ahmadinejad at nuclear facility 311 (R) (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
Iranian President Ahmadinejad at nuclear facility 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
UNITED NATIONS - Finland has agreed to host a potentially divisive international conference next year on ridding the Middle East of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the United Nations said on Friday.
Undersecretary of State Jaakko Laajava at the Finnish Foreign Ministry will be the conference's facilitator, the world body said in a joint statement with the United States, Britain and Russia.
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The plan for a meeting to lay the groundwork for the possible creation of a WMD-free Middle East was agreed to at a May 2010 conference of 189 parties to the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which met to take stock of the troubled pact.
The United States fears such a meeting could be used as a forum to bash Israel and demand it abandon any nuclear arms it has.
US officials have said a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East could not be a reality until there was broad Arab-Israeli peace and Iran curbed its nuclear program.
It also remains unclear whether Israel will take part in the 2012 conference in Finland, a senior Western diplomat told reporters this week in New York.
The idea for such a conference came from Egypt, which pushed for a conference with all states in the Middle East -- including Israel and Iran -- to negotiate a treaty that would establish a nuclear arms-free zone.
In a reversal from the previous US administration, US President Barack Obama agreed last year to join with the NPT's four other nuclear powers -- Britain, France, Russia and China -- in backing the demand of Egypt and other Arab states to organize an anti-WMD conference and to encourage Israel to participate.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed Finland's agreement to host the meeting, saying in a statement that "a Middle East free of all WMD and their means of delivery is an achievable goal, and one which is vital to the long term peace and security of the region."
But he added it "will not happen overnight nor without the commitment and support of all states in the region."