Saturday, September 23, 2006

West bars Arab bid at IAEA to rap Israel atom "threat"

By Mark Heinrich
Reuters
Fri Sep 22, 6:54 PM ET

Western nations foiled a bid by Arab and Islamic states on Friday to declare Israel's reputed nuclear arsenal a threat that must be removed in a politically charged vote at a U.N. atomic watchdog meeting.

Canada sponsored a 45-29 "no-action" ballot that prevented International Atomic Energy Agency member states from voting on a motion demanding Israel use atomic energy only for peaceful purposes and help set up a Middle East nuclear arms-free zone.

But the gathering voted 89-2 for a milder resolution on Israel, also initiated by Arab states, "affirming the urgent need for all states in the Middle East to accept full-scope IAEA safeguards on all their nuclear activities."

Israel neither admits nor denies having atomic weapons but most experts believe it has about 200 nuclear warheads.

Feverish negotiations failed to dissuade Arab delegates from pushing the two resolutions to a vote due to heightened resentment over Israel's battering of south Lebanon in war with Iranian-backed Hizbollah guerrillas.

Diplomats said many Arabs were fuming at the West's perceived slowness to stop Israel's heavy bombing of Lebanon that killed mainly civilians before an August 14 ceasefire imposed by a U.N. Security Council resolution.

ANGER OVER LEBANON

"The (Western) blocking manoeuvre is astonishing when innocent blood has not yet dried in Lebanon," said Syrian delegate Ibrahim Othman. He said Israel's exclusive nuclear might in the region caused a destabilising imbalance of power.

The United States, European and other Western allies combined to stifle the "threat" resolution. They said it was politically divisive and undermined the IAEA's traditional consensual approach.

Israel said a regional nuclear arms-free zone was a noble idea in principle but dangerous for it so long as some neighbors continued not to recognize the Jewish state, with Iran openly calling for its destruction.

"Current realities in the Middle East ... force Israel to entertain no illusions. The fundamental goal as in other regions is attaining peace with security and stability, not arms control per se," said Israel Michaeli, Israel's envoy to the IAEA.

U.S. foes such as Venezuela and Cuba and some developing nations like South Africa joined the unsuccessful Arab-Islamic effort to put it to a floor vote.

Arab and Islamic anger also simmered over "double standards" seen in Western pressure on Iran to shelve its fledgling nuclear energy program while Israel faced none despite a batch of U.N. resolutions urging it to scrap its alleged atomic warheads.

Nineteen nations, including India and Russia, abstained over the "threat" measure, and three in the safeguards vote.

Israel and its closest ally the United States were the sole "no" votes on the IAEA safeguards resolution.

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