Friday, 21 May 2010

US, Egypt seek Mideast nuclear arms ban deal

Move could eventually force Israel to scrap its atomic bomb arsenal, UN diplomats say

The United States and Egypt are working to bridge differences on a proposed Middle East nuclear arms ban, an idea that could one day force Israel to scrap any atom bombs it has, UN diplomats say.

The US efforts to secure a deal with Egypt and other Arab countries reflect Washington's concern to win their backing for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program by offering a concession over US ally Israel, even though Washington says such a ban is impossible without peace in the Middle East.

Western diplomats say that the success or failure of a month-long meeting on the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) currently under way in New York hinges on the sensitive negotiations on an Egyptian proposal to hold a conference on establishing a zone free of nuclear arms in the Middle East.

"If we can't get a deal on the Middle East in the next few days, the NPT review conference will probably collapse," a Western diplomat told Reuters. "It's what happened in 2005."

Another Western diplomat familiar with the talks was guardedly optimistic. Despite the appearance of a chasm separating the Arabs from the United States and the four other permanent UN Security Council members, "informal conversations indicate the sides are not in reality too far apart," he said.

"The next few days will be critical," the envoy added.

NPT review conferences are held every five years to take stock of and assess compliance with the anti-nuclear arms pact. They make decisions by consensus, which makes it difficult to reach agreements, since all 189 NPT signatories have a veto.

The last review conference in 2005 was widely viewed as a failure. It collapsed due to Egypt's outrage at the failure to move forward on the Middle East nuclear-arms-free zone idea and developing nations' anger at the United States for refusing to reaffirm disarmament pledges from 2000.

Both Egypt and the US are eager to avoid another collapse. Cairo does not want to be labeled as a spoiler again, while the United States wants an outcome that helps ratchet up the pressure on Iran and supports President Barack Obama's determination to move toward a world free of nuclear arms.

If there is no deal on the Middle East, envoys say, there can be no agreement on a final declaration that "names and shames" Iran and North Korea and acknowledges the disarmament steps the big powers have taken, which Washington and its allies want.,7340,L-3892418,00.html

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