UNITED NATIONS: Egypt said there is an urgent need to create a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East and five world powers gave the idea qualified backing at a UN conference here Wednesday.
"The need is doubled today for the effective and comprehensive implementation of the 1995 (NPT) resolution on the Middle East," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said in a speech read in his absence to a conference reviewing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The reviews are held every five years. The 1995 conference called for a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and extended the NPT indefinitely.
In an indication of the deadlock here, Aboul-Gheit said the three states, Britain, Russia and the United States, which sponsored this resolution in 1995 have since then exerted "no effort… to assure its implementation."
His remarks were read out by Egypt’s UN Ambassador Maged Abdel Aziz.
Egypt is leading non-aligned nations in a push to convene next year a conference on turning the Middle East into a zone free of nuclear weapons.
The non-aligned states also want Israel, which is believed to have some 200 atomic bombs but does not confirm this, officially to declare its arsenal and then join the NPT in order to disarm.
Israel says it will consider joining a nuclear weapon-free zone, but only after there is a peace agreement in the Middle East. This position is supported by the United States.
Arab diplomats object, saying that the creation of a zone would be a catalyst towards reaching peace.
"A conference should look at whatever steps are necessary to move forward," and "be one which would launch negotiations on a zone and not just be a talk shop," one diplomat said.
Egypt and the United States are trying to work out a compromise to start talks on a zone, diplomats said.
And Russia is trying to work with Washington to find a way to move forward, they said.
Susan Burk, the US special representative for nuclear non-proliferation, told reporters Wednesday, "We want to work with our allies and friends to make the 1995 resolution a reality."
"The question is, how do you do that in the absence of a peace plan."
And how do you get all states in the region to participate when "you have someone from that region that is recklessly non-compliant with their NPT obligations," she said.
This was a clear reference to Iran which is defying UN Security Council resolutions ordering it to stop enriching uranium, a potential bomb material.
Burk hinted that the peace process and moving towards a nuclear weapon-free zone could occur simultaneously, rather than having one come before the other.
Deadlock over this issue threatens to block progress at the NPT meeting, which focuses on disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
The UN’s five permanent Security Council members said Wednesday they were "committed to a full implementation of the 1995 NPT resolution on the Middle East and we support all ongoing efforts to this end."
They called "for the consideration of the establishment of new zones where appropriate and in conformity with the wishes of regional states."
But the permanent Council members’ statement did not give a mandate for setting up the zone.
The 1995 resolution only calls for "practical steps" towards a zone, leaving open how and when it would actually come into existence.
The last NPT review in 2005 failed when bickering over a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone and over the Iranian nuclear crisis destroyed any chance of new agreements or fixes to the Treaty.
Aboul-Gheit also spoke out against using concerns about proliferation of nuclear weapons to limit the rights of developing states to peaceful atomic energy or to amend the treaty to punish states that withdraw.
South African delegate Abdul Minty said the conference must not allow any decisions "which may infringe on the inalienable rights of all states parties to the verifiable peaceful application of nuclear energy, as provided for under the treaty."