- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 15, 2010

VIENNA, Austria | President Obama’s top nuclear envoy warned Arab ambassadors Wednesday that they risk contributing to a failure of Middle East peace talks if they use an upcoming meeting in Vienna to pressure Israel over its nuclear program, diplomats said.

They told the Associated Press that Gary Samore, Mr. Obama’s top adviser on nuclear issues, delivered that message at a closed meeting with Arab ambassadors accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Three diplomats accredited to the IAEA agreed to discuss the confidential meeting on the condition of anonymity.

Arab nations plan to introduce a resolution urging Israel to open its nuclear program to international perusal at an agency conference next week. That resolution narrowly passed at last year’s annual conference of 151 nations, further increasing Middle East tensions.

One of the diplomats said that — although Mr. Samore was attending this week’s 35-nation IAEA board meeting — his main focus in Vienna was to persuade the Arab nations not to resubmit the resolution at the annual IAEA conference next week, reflecting the priority attached to the issue by the Obama administration.

Israel is commonly assumed to have nuclear arms but declines to discuss its status. The annually recurring row in Vienna over its nuclear program has assumed greater significance than usual against the backdrop of renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the threat by the Palestinians to walk out of the talks if Israel resumes construction of settlements in the West Bank.

In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that the U.S. is concerned that the Arab move, should it happen, could jeopardize the current Middle East peace talks.

“First of all, let’s state a fact,” Mr. Crowley said. “Israel has fully cooperated with the IAEA and that is in contrast to one or more governments, Iran and Syria being two that come to mind, who have not cooperated with the IAEA.”

One of the diplomats said Mr. Samore also was lobbying other IAEA nations to gather as many opponents of the vote as possible, should the Arabs submit the resolution. Another said Arab representatives at the closed meeting told Mr. Samore that they would have to consult on higher levels before making any decision.

Two diplomats said Mr. Samore also warned that continued pressure on Israel could doom chances of a planned 2012 conference on a Middle East nuclear-free zone, as proposed by the U.N.’s 189-nation nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference earlier this year.

A fourth diplomat — a senior envoy from an Arab nation who also asked for anonymity — said Mr. Samore’s request had been relayed to his capital.

“We don’t know what the decision will be,” he said.