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Israel key to NPT conference on banning nukes

Arab nations finally won agreement from the US and the other nuclear powers to take the first step toward banning nuclear weapons from the Middle East. Now, the next move is Israel's.

By Edith M. LedererAssociated Press Writer / May 29, 2010

Iranian representatives attend the closing of the 2010 Review Conference on Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) at United Nations headquarters in New York, Friday May 28.

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After 15 years, Arab nations finally won agreement from the United States and the other nuclear powers to take the first step toward banning nuclear weapons from the Middle East. Now, the next move is Israel's.

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Although the U.S. joined the 188 other member nations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty on Friday in giving a green light to a conference in 2012 "on the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction," senior U.S. officials appeared to backtrack afterward, setting several conditions for the talks to go ahead.

Taking the toughest line, U.S. National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones said in a statement Friday night that the United States has "serious reservations" about the 2012 conference and believes Mideast peace and full compliance by all countries in the region to their arms control and nonproliferation obligations "are essential precursors." The compliance demand appeared to be aimed at Iran, which the U.S. believes is pursuing a nuclear weapons program despite Tehran's claims its only goal is nuclear power.

Jones also strongly defended longtime U.S. ally Israel, which was singled out for not being a member of the NPT. He said the United States "deplores" the naming of Israel which puts prospects for the 2012 conference "in doubt." As a cosponsor of the conference, Jones said the United States will ensure that it will only takes place "if and when all countries feel confident that they can attend."

The Arab proposal for a WMD-free zone – to pressure Israel to give up its undeclared arsenal of perhaps 80 nuclear warheads – was endorsed by the 1995 NPT conference but never acted on. At this month's NPT review, a conference to begin talks on a nuclear-free Mideast was considered by many delegates as "the make-or-break issue," and agreement on the 2012 meeting was widely welcomed after the 28-page final declaration was approved by consensus.

U.S. reaction raises questions

But the U.S. reaction raised questions and doubts about whether Israel, Iran and other countries in the Mideast will even hold a meeting in two years.

Several delegates suggested that earlier comments by U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher and President Barack Obama's coordinator for weapons of mass destruction, Gary Samore, warning about the difficulties of holding a conference and persuading Israel to attend may have been sparked by the upcoming visit of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on Tuesday.

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