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. UN nuclear watchdog calls for nuclear-free zone in Middle East
VIENNA (AFP) Sep 24, 2004
The UN atomic agency called Friday for the creation of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, in a move clearly aimed at Israel which is believed to be the only state in the region with atomic weapons.

The resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency, presented by Egypt and adopted by consensus, "affirms the urgent need for all states in the Middle East to forthwith accept the application of full-scope agency safeguards to all their nuclear activities ... as a step in enchancing peace and security in the context of the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone."

The resolution did not specifically mention Israel, which neither confirms nor denies that it has atomic weapons and is the only state in the region which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which sets safeguards that are monitored by the IAEA.

Israel is believed to have up to 200 nuclear weapons.

The resolution said the 137-member IAEA was "concerned by the grave consequence, endangering peace and security, of the presence in the Middle East regions of nuclear activities not wholly devoted to peaceful purposes."

Israel, which is an IAEA member, was a member of the consensus for the resolution.

An Israeli representative told the plenary session of the IAEA's general conference: "Israel has joined the consensus because it has recognized that a nuclear-free zone could contribute to the overall effort to peace and security in the region."

But he said Israel disapproved of both the language and "modalities" of the resolution.

Israel has said an overall peace agreement in the Middle East must precede setting up a nuclear-free zone.

"No progress compromising national security is viable," the Israeli representative said, adding the time was not right for a nuclear-free zone due to the "open conflicts and stark realities still prevailing in our region."

The resolution was part of a compromise package worked out under US moderation, with Israel supporting the call for a nuclear-free zone and with an Arab proposal to discuss "Israeli nuclear capabilities and threat" put off until next year's IAEA general conference.

It was almost the same as a compromise worked out last year and in several previous years with Arab countries seeking to use the IAEA general conference as a forum to attack Israel for having nuclear weapons and not accepting NPT safeguards.

An Egyptian representative said the "establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East is something that cannot wait until there is a just and comprehensive peace but it is the very axis" for such a peace.

A Yemeni representative said it was "quite abnormal" that Israel is the "sole state in the region" that has not signed the NPT.

"We wonder why this bizarre situation has continued. It is an urgent situation and we do not see why it should linked to a non-existent peace process in the region," the Yemeni delegate said.

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