U.N. nuclear chief asks Israel to join treaty

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VIENNA, Austria (AP) — The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has asked Israel to consider signing up to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, according to a report made public Friday, in a boost to Arab-led pressure on the Jewish state to join the pact.

Israel refuses to confirm it possesses a nuclear arsenal but is widely considered to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power.

Agency chief Yukiya Amano “invited Israel to consider to accede” to the treaty during a low-key visit to the country last month, said the IAEA report that was made public before a meeting of the Vienna-based watchdog’s board of governors.

In his talks with officials, Mr. Amano also asked Israel to “place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards” and “conveyed the General Conference’s concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities,” the report said.

Islamic nations have long called for Israel to open its nuclear program and join the treaty. They saw their efforts rewarded a year ago when IAEA member states, at their annual Vienna conference, narrowly passed a resolution directly criticizing Israel and its atomic program, with 49 of the 110 nations present in support, 45 against and 16 abstaining.

The resolution expressed “concern about the Israeli nuclear capabilities,” and links it to “concern about the threat posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons for the security and stability of the Middle East.”

The result was a setback not only for Israel but also for Washington and other backers of the Jewish state, which had lobbied for 18 years of past practice — debate on the issue without a vote.

A July 26 letter from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, included in Friday’s report, points the finger at Iran and Syria as the Middle East’s “real proliferation challenges” and called the resolution a politically motivated attempt to divert attention from them.

Attempts to single out Israel “seriously detracts from the international community’s attempts to address the actual and ongoing violations of international obligations in the nuclear sphere,” Mr. Liberman wrote.

The U.S. and its allies consider Iran the region’s greatest proliferation threat, fearing that Tehran is trying to achieve the capacity to make nuclear weapons despite its assertion that it is only building a civilian program to generate power.

They also say Syria — which, like Iran is under International Atomic Energy Agency investigation — ran a clandestine nuclear program, at least until Israeli warplanes destroyed what they describe as a nearly finished plutonium-producing reactor two years ago. Syria denies that.

Friday’s report also included more than 40 letters from IAEA member states in response to an April request by Amano for proposals on how to persuade Israel to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty.

The letters reflect a deep rift among the international community on the matter.

Iran, for example, called Israel an “atrocious regime” and claimed that nuclear weapons in its hands were a source of serious danger to regional and international peace and security.

The U.S., in contrast, said it encourages all states that have not yet done so to join the Nonproliferation Treaty, but added it opposed the resolution adopted last September because it singles out Israel and mentions neither Iran’s noncompliance with its IAEA safeguards obligations, nor Syria’s refusal to cooperate with the agency.

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