Magazine article Arms Control Today

Middle East Nuclear Forum Postponed

Magazine article Arms Control Today

Middle East Nuclear Forum Postponed

Article excerpt

A scheduled forum to discuss established nuclear-weapon-free zones and their possible relevance to creating such a zone in the Middle East has been postponed as Israel and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continue to hash out guidelines for the meeting.

In a Feb. 4 interview with Arms Control Today, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated that he hoped the meeting will still occur this year. He was less hopeful about what it might accomplish, claiming he had "no illusion that this [meeting] will end up in the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East." Yet, ElBaradei sees the meeting as a worthwhile starting point for what he deems a "long, long, long-term process."

"I've been advocating for a long time the need for a permanent security dialogue with the peace process in the Middle East," ElBaradei asserted. He added that any such discussion should cover not only unconventional weapons, but also conventional weapons and confidence building.

According to an Israeli government spokesperson, Israel and the IAEA are still negotiating a few technical issues before proceeding with the meeting.

The forum was scheduled to take place in Vienna from Jan. 31 through Feb. 4. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last July assured ElBaradei that Israel would attend such a conference.

Sharon has maintained that a peace settlement between Israel and its neighbors must be reached before negotiations for a denuclearized zone could begin. (see ACT, September 2004.) Israel, which is not a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), officially remains silent on the question of whether it possesses nuclear weapons, although it is generally recognized as having such an arsenal. …

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