JERUSALEM: Israel will not attend a conference on the creation of a nuclear-free Middle East scheduled to take place in Finland, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
“This announcement was made on Wednesday in Vienna during a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by the director of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, Shaul Horev,” spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.
The announcement was first reported by Haaretz newspaper, which said Horev cited the “volatile and hostile situation” in the region in explaining Israel’s decision to stay away.
The conference is scheduled to take place either later this year or early in 2013, and is backed by the United States.
Horev reportedly told the IAEA meeting that a nuclear-free Middle East “will be possible only after the establishment of peace and trust among the states of the area, as a result of a local initiative, not of external coercion.”
Earlier this year, Finnish representatives travelled to Israel in a bid to convince the Jewish state to attend the meeting which comes as the world grapples with the standoff over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Israel and much of the international community believes Iran’s nuclear programme masks a weapons drive, a charge denied by Tehran, which says its activities are for civilian nuclear energy and medical purposes.
Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power, has said it will not rule out unilateral military action against Tehran to prevent it from developing a weapon.
The Jewish state is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which governs and restricts the development of nuclear technology, though it has IAEA membership. Other non-signatories include India and Pakistan.