May 23, 2015 / 2:03 AM / 2 years ago

Dispute over Mideast nuclear arms ban torpedoes U.N. conference

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller poses for a photo next to flowers planted on top of a U.S. bomb shell during a visit to a mines and bombs museum in Vietnam's central Quang Tri province, March 2, 2015. REUTERS/Kham

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A month-long review conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ended in failure on Friday after its members were unable to overcome disagreements on an atomic weapons ban for the Middle East, which the United States blamed on Egypt.

After four weeks of negotiations at the United Nations on ways to improve compliance with the pact, there was no consensus among its 191 signatories. U.S. Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller announced there was “no agreement” and accused some countries of undermining the negotiations.

Gottemoeller did not say which nations had tried to “cynically manipulate” the conference, though she accused Egypt and other Arab states of bringing “unrealistic and unworkable conditions” to the negotiations.

A senior Western diplomat was more blunt: “Egypt wrecked the conference. ... Egypt overshot the runway and has prevented the region from moving closer to a region free of (weapons of mass destruction).”

Egypt denied trying to wreck the conference.

The U.S. concerns were echoed by Canada and Britain. Cairo’s top delegate, Assistant Foreign Minister Hashim Badr, blamed Washington, London and Ottawa for the failure to achieve consensus, saying it was a “sad day for the NPT.”

Last month, Egypt, backed by other Arab and non-aligned states, proposed that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convene a regional conference on banning weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as called for at the 2010 NPT review. The conference would be with or without Israel’s participation, without agreement on an agenda and with no discussion of regional security issues.

Those conditions are unacceptable to Israel and Washington.

Decisions at NPT review conferences, which are held every five years, are made by consensus.

Israel neither confirms nor denies the widespread assumption that it controls the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal. Israel, which has never joined the NPT, agreed to take part in the review meeting as an observer, ending a 20-year absence.

The call for a 2012 conference on a regional WMD ban, approved at the 2010 NPT review meeting, infuriated Israel. But diplomats said Israel eventually agreed to attend planning meetings. The 2012 conference never took place, which annoyed Egypt and other Arab states.

Egypt’s proposals, Western diplomats say, were intended to focus attention on Israel. Washington and Israel say Iran’s nuclear program is the real regional threat.

Iran says its program is peaceful. It is negotiating with world powers to curb it in exchange for lifting sanctions.

Israel has said it would consider joining the NPT only once at peace with its Arab neighbors and Iran.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker

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