Egypt seeks UN pressure on Israel over nuclear arms

Reuters April 20, 2010

UNITED NATIONS: Israel may come under new pressure next month at a UN meeting on atomic weapons as the United States, Britain and France consider backing Egypt's call for a zone in the Middle East free of nuclear arms, envoys said.

The 189 signatories to the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) will meet at UN headquarters in New York for a May 3-28 conference on the troubled pact whose credibility, analysts say, has been harmed by the atomic programs of Iran and North Korea and the failure of the big nuclear powers to disarm.

Israel, like India and Pakistan, never signed the treaty and is not officially attending the conference. The Jewish state is presumed to have a sizable nuclear arsenal, although it has never confirmed or denied having atomic weapons.

NPT review conferences take place every five years. At the 1995 meeting, member states unanimously supported a resolution backing the idea of "a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons as well as other weapons of mass destruction."

In a working paper Egypt submitted to fellow treaty members ahead of next month's meeting, Cairo said the conference should formally express regret that "no progress has taken place on the implementation of the (1995) resolution" and call for an international treaty conference by 2011.

The point of such a conference would be "to launch negotiations, with the participation of all states of the Middle East, on an internationally and effectively verifiable treaty for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East," the Egyptian paper says.

Egyptian initiatives at NPT meetings are nothing new.

But Western diplomats familiar with the issue said the five permanent UN Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- might be ready to support such a conference, although not with a negotiating mandate.

The diplomats, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the three Western powers might also encourage Israel to participate, although their position was that there could be no mandate for negotiating such a treaty now, when many countries in the region refuse to recognise Israel.

Egypt is one of several Arab states that recognise Israel.