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UN atomic agency approves text on nuclear-weapons-free Mideast

by Staff Writers
Vienna (AFP) Sept 20, 2007
The UN atomic agency adopted a non-binding resolution on a nuclear weapons-free-zone in the Middle East with Israel and the US voting against and EU states except Ireland abstaining.

The lack of consensus weakened the impact of the measure, at a general conference of the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), diplomats told AFP.

The Egyptian-sponsored resolution was backed by 53 votes, with two against and 47 abstentions.

The IAEA has a tradition of adopting resolutions by consensus but the Middle East issue has become highly politicized, even though Israel backs a nuclear weapons-free-zone (NWFZ) within the framework of a Middle East peace settlement.

Some Western and non-aligned diplomats said the problem this year was that Iran was agitating behind the scenes for a showdown over Israel, in order to distract from its own nuclear programme.

One Western diplomat said the large abstention vote, which included Australia, Canada, Georgia, Ghana and Zambia, "shows that the world is hanging together on these matters."

But the Iranian speaker blasted the vote as putting into question the views of "some members that full-scope safeguards" need be complemented by wider inspection measures, as Israel, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) seemed to be exempt from this.

An Irish diplomat said his country had voted for the text since Ireland favored a NWFZ in the Middle East. "It's as simple as that," the diplomat said.

The general conference approves broad policy lines for the 144-member IAEA, the verification arm of the NPT.

But the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors makes decisions for the agency on how policy is implemented.

The contested resolution contained two new paragraphs that were added to past texts and which Israel felt expanded the scope of the resolution too much, diplomats said.

The first called on "all states of the region, pending the establishment of the zone, not to develop, produce, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or permit the stationing on their territories ... of nuclear weapons."

The second new paragraph urged "nuclear-weapons states and all other states to render assistance in the establishment of the zone."

Israel neither confirms nor denies it has nuclear weapons.

The Arab states insist, however, that the Jewish state does have such weapons and is a danger to peace and stability in the Middle East.

Traditionally at the IAEA's general conference, Arab states introduce a separate resolution on the Israeli nuclear threat but in the face of strong Western opposition withdraw it.

It is then postponed to the following year in return for Israel agreeing to a call for a NWFZ in the Middle East.

This arrangement fell apart for the first time at last year's general conference, when the NWFZ resolution was adopted by a vote of 89-2.

This year Egypt refused to compromise on the text, even though the Europeans and the United States offered a consensus on the previous year's version of the resolution.

"They could have had consensus but look at the hash they have made of it now," a non-aligned diplomat said.

US ambassador Gregory Schulte said he was disappointed at the lack of consensus.

Israel's atomic energy chief Gideon Frank said that "for 14 years until last year, Israel has supported a consensus resolution" but could not this year due to Egypt's unwillingness to negotiate on the hardened text, as well as on the resolution condemning Israel as a nuclear threat.

This second resolution has not yet been presented to the general conference, which ends Friday.

Egyptian ambassador Ehab Fawzy said the weapons-free-zone text had "not been amended for the last 15 years" and even so consensus failed to be reached last year.

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