- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

GENEVA — Arab and Islamic countries led by Iran have decided to snub Israel’s presidency of the U.N.-sponsored conference on disarmament, senior diplomats said.

The move comes at a sensitive moment in Arab-Israeli relations, with intense international efforts to jump-start the stalled peace process, and at a period of renewed tensions between the United States and Iran.

Israeli diplomatic sources were critical of the decision by Arab and Islamic nations not to participate in the conference during Israel’s one-month presidency.

“In today’s world, which places a premium on acceptance and dialogue, a policy of exclusion conflicts and is in stark contrast to the spirit and principles of the U.N. which we should all uphold and cherish,” an Israeli source said.

Ambassador Yaakov Levy of Israel, in his speech as incoming president of the conference, called on all delegates to the 66-member body to think creatively and open-mindedly.

But the boycott of Israel, a close U.S. ally, had been anticipated by disarmament diplomats in light of the heavy public pressure the Bush administration put earlier this year on Iran and Iraq respectively not to assume the rotating presidency.

Washington considered both as unacceptable to hold the top post. Subsequently, both Baghdad and Tehran turned down the presidency.

But on Friday, Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Reza Alborzi, as coordinator of delegates to the conference from member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), circulated a letter saying that OIC nations would not participate in the conference during Israel’s tenure.

Overall, senior Western diplomats summed up the action as symbolic.

“It was a fairly low-key protest. They could have made more noise,” said a Western ambassador who requested anonymity.

Israel is not a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the international chemical-weapons convention and other key arms-control pacts.

Arab and Islamic countries have accused the United States repeatedly of double standards with regard to arms control for declining to put the same level of pressure on Israel over proliferation concerns as it does on some Arab and Islamic regimes over suspicions of weapons of mass destruction. Israel is believed to possess nuclear weapons.

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